Political rallies will backfire

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Political rallies will backfire

Freedom of assembly is essential in a mature democracy, together with the freedom of speech. But the level of danger or inconvenience that is raised by the exercise of that freedom should be acceptable to the public. Protesters must prudently use their right - to respect other people’s rights, too.

But three antigovernment rallies over the past two months raised serious questions about such exercises of our democratic freedoms. First, demonstrators must not infringe on other people’s basic rights - such as the pursuit of happiness - for the sake of their own political goals. Other citizens’ rights to spend weekends with their families is as crucial as protesters’ passing demands. That’s why the public is strongly suspicious about the third rally orchestrated by a combative antigovernment group under the description of a “cultural event” in downtown Seoul. Police have announced a plan to bring the leadership to justice after defining the demonstration as an “illegitimate rally disguised as a cultural event.”

The police estimate that about 2,500 members of the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and other groups representing the underprivileged participated in Saturday’s protest. Organizers of the rally claimed they only held the “cultural event” to protest the police’s arrest of Han Sang-gyun, the ringleader of the violent antigovernment demonstration on Nov. 14. We expressed our position that the police’s charges went too far and even echoed the approach of authoritarian governments in our past. Yet the rally leaders’ reiteration of political slogans - like “Remove and destroy the Park Geun-hye administration!” - was clearly wrong. The protesters also caused a big traffic jam in the main streets of downtown Seoul.

The organizers warned that they will kick off “a struggle to nullify the ruling party’s relentless push for five labor reform bills and bring the government to justice through full-fledged strife and a fourth rally.” The group’s threat to stage a political struggle against pending bills itself is politically motivated. In fact, a considerable number of KCTU members shied away from Wednesday’s general strike led by the KCTU. Only 74,000 union members - nearly half an original estimate - took part in the strike. The umbrella union represents only 10 percent of the entire workforce.

The KCTU needs to do some deep soul searching before staging another rally. Citizens won’t soon forget its first violent rally. The silent majority will not approve. Illegal rallies disguised as cultural events will only backfire.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 21, Page 34

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