Taking action on violence

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Taking action on violence

Minister of Justice Kim Hyun-woong has pledged that violent masked demonstrators will face prison time. He also warned that anyone who takes part in unlicensed protests with their faces masked could face even tougher punitive action.

The minister issued the warning ahead of an anti-government protest announced by labor unions and scheduled for Dec. 5. The government and the ruling Saenuri Party are likewise pursuing a controversial law to ban masks or other face coverings at rallies by revising Korea’s Assembly and Demonstration Act.

Despite concerns about excessiveness, stricter punishment for masked protesters is necessary, particularly because people tend to become more violent when their identities are concealed.

On Saturday, a Seoul court sentenced one protester who had his face masked to a two-year prison term for beating a police officer.

Violence must be strictly prohibited to guarantee freedom of assembly.

Korean courts have so far been generous when it comes to violent demonstrations. Over the past five years, only 0.2 percent of those who faced trial for violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act received prison sentences.

Most walked away after paying fines. Under current law, those liable for group beatings, threats, property damage and arson receive one year in prison or a fine of less than 1 million won.

The fine hasn’t risen since it was set in 1989. It’s too small considering what the society has to pay every time violent street rallies take place. Such soft punishment cannot root out violent protests.

Han Sang-kyun, the head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions who has been taking refuge at Jogye Temple in central Seoul since the Nov. 14 rally, offered to turn himself in if the police ensured the right to peaceful protest. But how can we trust his word when he orchestrated a violent protest and is currently on trial for a previous violent clash?

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 28, Page 34

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