Peaceful Protests

Peaceful Protests – it can happen

South Korea’s National Police Agency has announced plans to enforce the law “in a more ‘active’ manner” than they did at last years beef protests. Apparently water cannons, full riot gear including batons and shields, and blockades are the passive approach. This year, they are adding the defensive weapon of young women scarred of being mugged – pepper spray to their arsenal.

From what I read in the article in the Korea Times, apart from addition of pepper spray, I couldn’t tell what was different from the way things are already being handled. Police already arrested violent protesters and they certainly already track down those they believe are ringleaders.

What fails to be discussed, still, is: why are these protests ‘illegal’ in the first place? People in other countries are free to hit the streets and yell madly. But Korea’s draconian laws do not allow for that – that is why they are held as ‘vigils’, which are allowed under law, rather than protests, which are not (someone could prove me wrong on that but that is my understanding). Of course some protests are allowed but anything that the government doesn’t like, can be banned – kinda defeating the purpose of a lot of protests. It is almost not surprising that the typical outcome is that things get out of hand – the more oppressed the people feel, the more likely they are to want to protest that treatment. As long as the government continues to restrict legal space for people to voice their dissatisfaction, concerns or anger there will always be illegal protests in Korea. The law making the protests ‘illegal’ should be reviewed or implemented better. Apart from the Wednesday Demonstrations of the ‘comfort women’ I can’t remember ever hearing about a ‘legal’ protest in Korea.

Another point, related to the first, is: why do the people need to be dispersed? Everyone agrees that violent protesters should be arrested and taken out of the protesting space but why can’t people protest and stand around for as long as the mood takes them – whether it is hours, days, or months? Surely a free society with freedom of opinion and expression should provide space for such expression to take place. Maybe Korea needs a big open public square rather than “improvements” in police dispersal methods. At the end of the day, no matter what the method, if people don’t want to leave the ‘dispersal’ process is going to get ugly.

However this is just my opinion, Gi Korea seems to be totally in favour of the more robust approach to ‘illegal’ protests in Korea.

I love a good protest. I don’t even mind a bad one. I’ve walked the streets in Australia, Korea, and London. Earlier this week I hit the streets of London for the G20 protests. In my experience certain things are key for protests:

– governments must allow them to take place – it is both a human right and democratic right to be able to express yourself  and to speak out against your own government

– priority of the police should be ensuring the safety of everyone, not just themselves. Protests should be safe, family friendly events where everyone and anyone is welcome to join.

At the G20 protest the police presence was totally over the top. Its ridiculous to have hundreds of police in full riot gear next to people singing and dancing – it creates an atmosphere of fear and builds up tensions. It would be more helpful to think about how to provide a safe environment for protesters and police rather than demonising protesters as nothing but idiots who should go home and/or violent thugs who are out to beat up police. I took some video footage of the G20 protest which I will put up over the weekend.


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April 2009
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