Giving democratic protests a bad name

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Giving democratic protests a bad name

The violent protests in front of former President Moon Jae-in’s private residence in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang went too far. On Monday, the former first couple lodged a complaint with local police against four members of three conservative civic groups who have been hurling insults at the couple during rallies. Moon and his wife accused them of repeatedly spreading wrong facts and threatening to set the house on fire and even kill the couple. Moon’s former aides in the Blue House, including Reps. Yoon Young-chan and Han Byung-do from the Democratic Party (DP), visited the Yangsan police station on Wednesday to protest the police’s “overly passive response to the berserk rallies.”

The conservative groups’ rallies over the past three weeks have exceeded permissible levels of democratic protest. A video of their rally released on Monday contains derogatory remarks they made against the former president and his family. The episode shows the pain and hardship the former president has experienced each day since his retirement in early May. Some neighbors suffering from insomnia and a loss of appetite reportedly have been receiving hospital treatment.

When Moon and his wife arrived in Pyeongsan village, Yangsan on May 10 after finishing their five years in the Blue House, local residents were excited about the former president’s promise to “share makgeolli, [fermented rice wine]” with them. But five days later, Moon let his and local residents’ pain from the vociferous rallies be known to the outside by posting on Facebook. “After we returned home, anti-intellectualism exemplified by all the noise and insults delivered by loudspeakers broke the peace and calmness of Sunday in a rural village,” he wrote. His daughter wondered if these demonstrations can even be called a protest. “They are shouting curses as if they excrete,” she fumed. She removed the comment later.

The freedom of assembly and expression should be guaranteed. But if it goes beyond socially-acceptable levels, it cannot be allowed. Current laws on public assemblies and demonstrations allow the police to ban or restrict them if they seriously damage the lives of private citizens.

The police promised DP lawmakers that they will react to the rallies more aggressively through “careful reinterpretation of the related laws.” But the police must take steps immediately to stop such rallies rather than paying mere lip service. Their laidback response to rallies full of obscenities reflects the lethargic state of our law enforcement authorities. The government must find effective ways to put an end to such malignant — and habitual — demonstrations against a former head of state before it’s too late.
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