A rally too far

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A rally too far

The laws on public rallies and demonstrations are aimed at guaranteeing legitimate and peaceful protests to the maximum level. But at the same time, they must protect innocent citizens from illegal demonstrators using violence during rallies. That’s why the law demands that the people’s rights to hold protests must be reconciled with the need to maintain public safety. Our Constitutional Court ruled that only peaceful or non-violent public protests are protected by the law, not ones accompanied by violence.

The Nov. 14 rally in Gwanghwamun Plaza led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), which resulted in rampant violence against government property, was unlawful from the outset. And yet, the militant umbrella union group plans to hold a second rally in the same place on Dec. 5. That’s a brazen challenge against the authority of the government and a serious mockery of the rule of law. The group’s decision to stage rallies in Seoul instead of holding protests in other parts of the country elicits strong suspicions that its members are aiming to paralyze central Seoul.

KCTU leader Han Sang-gyun, who took refuge from being arrested in nearby Jogye Temple, the headquarters of the largest Korean Buddhist sect, went a step further by asking leaders of the Jogye Order to persuade the government to allow their protests. We are astonished at his pleading for help from a temple despite a court’s issuance of an arrest warrant for him. What does he want to gain from another rally? Does he really want to continue violent protests that may cripple the capital city and beyond?

The police must figure out the type of rally the KCTU plans to hold. If they affirm the potential for violence through the intelligence they gathered in a raid on the KCTU headquarters, law enforcement agencies must stop the rally in advance. Our law on public rallies stipulates that the police can impose a ban on any rallies or protests if they have clear evidence that they pose serious threats to public safety and order through collective violence and property damage. According to the police, 199 illegal and violent rallies took place over the last five years and they are turning increasingly violent.

As President Park Geun-hye stressed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, our law enforcement authorities must root out professional instigators through various anti-government forces working behind the scenes in accordance with the law. To end the vicious cycle of violence, the government must bring all of them to justice once and for all.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 25, Page 30

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