Stop abusing the law

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Stop abusing the law

have forwarded a case involving Han Sanggyun,
the orchestrator of the violent antigovernment
rally on Nov. 14 in downtown Seoul, to the prosecution
after adding a new criminal charge of instigating
a riot. Han, chairman of the militant Korean
Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was arrested
after taking refuge in Jogye Temple for nearly
a month. The police have applied riot charges for
the first time since the massive protest in Incheon
against the government in 1986. After the law enforcement
agency’s decision, controversy has arisen
over the appropriateness of the measure.
The police pinned their application of riot charges
for Han and other core members of the KCTU on
“eight accusations from civic groups and on the
evidence of criminal behaviors the police collected.”
The police underscored that the unlawful protests
had been methodically choreographed by union
leadership. Demonstrators not only paralyzed traffic
around the plaza, but also used violence in attacking
the police and damaging several police buses. For
instance, steel pipes and ladders were used. Chairman
Han even shouted, “Let’s show our power to
paralyze the nation as a whole!”
Law enforcement agencies must sternly apply
charges to establish the rule of law. But if the police
really want to apply riot charges, the degree of damage
to public property and threat must be high enough
to undermine the peace and stability of a particular
region. Since the government’s enactment of the
Criminal Law in 1953, it applied riot charges for only
four times: the massive protest against the government
in Busan in 1956; the violent democracy movement
in Busan and Masan in 1979; the Gwangju Democracy
Movement against the military government
in 1980; and the May 3, 1986, incident in Incheon.
Also, the government should be careful in applying
the charge, as it gives the impression that it
is willing to go back to the old authoritarian days
even though the Nov. 14 rally was not on a par with
those past violent protests. Chairman Han was already
accused of eight charges — including obstruction
of justice — which could lead him to spend up
to three years in jail. If he is indicted for an additional
charge of a rioting, he could be sentenced to
a maximum of 10 years in jail.
Critics link the government’s rare application of
the charge to an intention to stigmatize the union as
“an insurgent group.” The prosecution must weigh
this case very prudently. They must not forget that
abusing the law shakes the very foundation of the
rule of law.
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