Home > Freedom of Expression > The First “Legal” Nighttime Outdoor Assemblies Held

The First “Legal” Nighttime Outdoor Assemblies Held

By Myungsun Kim

The first “legal” nighttime outdoor assemblies were held on July 1 as major political parties failed to agree on a revision to a related clause of assembly law.

‘The Pan-National Committee to Stop Four-River Project” held a candlelight rally to stop the Four-River Project and to criticize President Lee Myung-bak’s policies and leadership. About Seventy civil organization activists and citizens gathered in front of the Seoul Financial Building with candles in their hands, celebrating the first “legal” nocturnal outdoor rally since clause 10 of the assembly law lost its effect.

The police who used to strictly regulate nocturnal assemblies lifted restrictions. No riot police bus could be found, and no riot policemen or conscripted policemen were stationed. Instead, the lines to maintain order and traffic for citizens were set up, and only four five policemen made status reports with walkie-talkies.

The song titled, “the Republic of Korea is a democratic republic,” started the assembly, and the participants of the assembly held candles and the signs that read “MB Out.”

In an interview with Hankyoreh news Kim Sang-kyu, a twenty nine-year-old participant, revealed his surprise at the dramatically changed rally atmosphere, saying “Not long ago those who just had candles in their hands were taken to the police station. I did not expect the removal of one clause would make such a huge change. This freedom is what we should certainly enjoy, but seems to have been suppressed for too long,”

The host organization led the assembly in an open discussion format while refraining from slogan chanting, as if to disprove the police and the conservative groups who suspected that “nighttime outdoor rallies can easily turn violent.”

Academia and civil organization experts agree that the allowance of nighttime public assemblies will help the development of South Korea’s democracy if the assemblies take the form of a fiesta and participants of the assemblies have mature civic awareness.

In an interview with the Yonhap News, Professor Min Kyung-bae of Kyunghee University of NGO department advised, “If nighttime outdoor assemblies give rise to illegal and violent actions they will not avoid criticisms from citizens. As [we] restrict our freedom and rights by ourselves, nighttime outdoor rallies need to be based on mature civic awareness.”

The forty three-year-old clause that bans “outdoor assemblies after sunset and before sunrise” was ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court last September because of the term’s ambiguity, and was to lose its temporary effect from July 1 unless a revision bill passed the National Assembly by the end of June.

Since the ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party did not reach an agreement on a revision bill, nighttime assemblies will remain unrestricted until further measures are taken in the September parliamentary plenary session.

The GNP proposed a revision bill that prohibits outdoor rallies from midnight to 5 a.m., saying people’s sleep should not be disrupted. “What’s the point of protesting when everyone else is sleeping?” asked GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung in the National Assembly’s 24-member Public Administration and Security Committee meeting held on June 25, according to the Joongang Daily.

The DP revision bill, submitted by Rep. Kang Gi-jung, principally authorizes the legality of all nocturnal outdoor rallies except in residential areas, school zones and military districts.

“No matter how alleviated is the GNP bill, we cannot accept the concept that nighttime rallies are in principal banned,” said Rep. Baek Won-woo of the DP, according to the Korea Herald. “Such a restriction is also against the Constitutional Court’s intention of lifting the excessive ban on the freedom of assembly,” he said.

Frank La Rue UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression who visited Korea on May showed his concern about infringement on the right to express via assemblies and demonstrations, highlighting the June 2009 statement made by the former Chairperson of the NHRCK: “The Government claims to protect peaceful assemblies and demonstrations and only prohibits ones that may give rise to illegal and violent actions. Yet, by presuming that certain demonstrations will become violent and cracking down on them before violence occurs, the Government violates the fundamental right to freedom of assembly and demonstration.”

He welcomed the decision by the Constitutional Court that the prohibition of assemblies after sunset and before sunrise in the Assembly Act is unconstitutional. He also noted that the use of Seoul Square and Gwang-hwa-meun Square for assemblies, including press conferences, requires approval from the Seoul City Government, and acted upon by the National Police.

Source:  유엔 특별보고관 “촛불집회 이후 한국에서 표현의 자유 위축” – 오마이뉴스

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Categories: Freedom of Expression
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