Dump the double standardsThe liberal civic groups held massive rallies across the country on Saturday, when our daily Covid-19 cases hovered over 200. Despite potential health risks from the protests against the government, reactions from the Blue House, the ruling Democratic Party (DP), local governments and police were totally different from when conservative groups staged outdoor rallies in August and October. The distinction provokes criticism on the double standards the government applies to rallies.
In Seoul, authorities have maintained a strict ban on outdoor gatherings of more than 100 citizens since Oct. 2 following its earlier ban on rallies downtown since Aug. 21. As a result, progressive groups told the police that they would split their rallies up to 99 participants. But on Saturday, when they pressed ahead with nationwide rallies, 205 Covid-19 cases were reported, the second largest number since Sept. 2 when 267 cases were reported. On Aug. 15, when conservative civic groups staged large-scale antigovernment rallies on Gwanghwamun Square, only 166 were reported, and 75 and 54 cases were reported on Oct. 3 and 9, respectively, when the government elevated social distancing to Level 2.
Given the number of Covid-19 cases, the government ignored graver health risks from progressive groups’ rallies than from conservative groups. Of course, the government should protect the freedom of assembly as much as it can. But health authorities made one incongruent remark after another.
The first came from Jeong Eun-kyeong, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). On Aug. 14, a day before the conservative groups’ massive rally on Gwanghwamun, she strongly urged that the rallies not be held, warning against the danger of a national spread of the virus. But when the organizing committee of the rallies by progressive groups held a press conference to announce a nationwide rally on Saturday, she did not give any warnings.
President Moon Jae-in called the conservative groups’ rally an “anti-social crime” and showed no lenience. On the progressive groups’ rallies, however, he only sent mild messages. His Chief of Staff Noh Young-min defined organizers of the conservative rally on Gwanghwamun as “murderers,” but changed his tune this time.
The government must not trigger public distrust by resorting to double standards. If Covid-19 spreads further after the progressive camp’s nationwide rallies, the government must hold it accountable just like it did with the conservative camp.