Protests misuse Gwanghwamun
Gwanghwamun Plaza recently became a hot topic because of the violent rally to mark the first anniversary of the Sewol’s sinking. According to the evidence gathered by the police, buses were destroyed while riot police troops suffered brutal injuries. One protester even burned the national flag during the rally. In other words, it was lawless chaos.
All of the people understand the pains of the surviving families of the Sewol victims. The people have shared the sadness that they could not protect the victims. That is why the government is doing everything to resolve related problems. President Park Geun-hye ordered the government on April 15 to pay special attention to resolving the situation smoothly, particularly after the families of the Sewol victims strongly protested the implementation of the special law governing the tragedy. She also issued a statement at Paengmok Harbor and promised to salvage the ship as soon as possible.
And yet, the victims’ families and the protesters chanted slogans after the rally that the ship must be raised, the special law must be abolished and Park must step down.
The people probably think that a political rally is allowed at the Gwanghwamun Plaza, but the law bars such an event. According to the ordinance that governs the plaza, Article 1 stated that the ordinance’s purpose is to maintain the plaza for the leisure and cultural activities of the people. Clause 1 of Article 3 in the ordinance also states that the Seoul mayor must ensure the plaza is used peacefully by the public. Therefore, a political rally is not allowed under the law, and an unlawful, violent rally is unacceptable.
The ordinance also says the mayor must make a decision on whether to permit the usage of the plaza after making sure that whatever event planned to take place does not violate other ordinances. In other words, the purpose of the plaza is for people to enjoy themselves and learn about culture. There is no room for a political rally.
And the law governing rallies and protests also makes it clear that no protest can take place within a 100-meter (328-foot) radius of the Blue House, the government complex and the U.S. Embassy, which are in the vicinity of the plaza.
There is no doubt that continuing a Sewol rally - inherently a political event - is illegal. Repeating illegal, violent demonstrations is not the way to support the Sewol victims’ families. After the recent demonstration, families of the two missing passengers begged that illegal rallies be stopped.
There may be different ways to express sadness and rage, but I strongly hope that the Sewol victims’ families will overcome their pain and elevate themselves as an example for the people to build a safe country and close the rift among the public.
At Gwanghwamun Plaza, statues of Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sun-sin look down on the rallies every day. They are the great Koreans who sacrificed themselves for the nation and the people. We must look to them as examples of how we should behave as citizens, even in times of great suffering and crisis.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is professor of police administration law at Sunmoon University.
by Kim Jae-kwang