Giving peace a chanceThe second large antigovernment rally in downtown Seoul in a month ended peacefully, in sharp contrast to the violence-ridden one on Nov. 14. No steel pipes were used against police buses or water cannons directed at the masses. The protesters marched along a prearranged route to their destination at Daehakro under police control. In Saturday’s rally, a number of protesters still wore surgical masks or other face coverings. They weren’t trying to conceal their identity, though. They were protesting the government’s intention to ban the practice, which is their democratic right.
The protesters expressed their opposition to various government policies without violence. Religious communities and civic groups, too, served as buffers on the scene, stressing the importance of a peaceful demonstration. That was a remarkable change from the violent rally three weeks earlier.
A JoongAng Ilbo survey of a committee representing those protesters and the police showed positive reactions. The committee appreciated the police for their restraint from using excessive force despite some dissatisfaction about policemen’s efforts to clear the way for traffic. The police also gave high scores to the protesters for their compliance with the law except for occasional breakaways from the line.
The fact that both sides could wrap up Saturday’s rally peacefully can be seen as the biggest achievement of the rally. If the rally had been tainted with violence again, the public’s freedom of expression could well have been restricted. The police most likely would not allow any future rallies by the group, which would no doubt trigger illegitimate and more vehement protests. In such a vicious cycle of confrontation, the protesters’ original demands would be overshadowed by violence.
The committee plans to hold a third rally on Dec. 19. If the protesters demonstrate mature citizenship as they did on Saturday, they can effectively express their complaints without trouble. Otherwise, they have to face stern public scrutiny as well as mounting outrage. Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution - but only when protesters abide by the law.
Han Sang-kyun, the orchestrator of the rallies who is now taking refuge in Jogye Temple, must keep his promise that he would voluntarily appear before the police after Dec. 5. Despite his claim that his arrest would be a violation of constitutional freedoms, a court already issued an arrest warrant for him. He refused to appear in court three times - a mockery of the law. Hiding in a religious facility is an act of cowardice. He must come out as he said he would and comply with the law.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 7, Page 34