Court OKs rallies in vicinity of presidential office, ruling against police

Posted on : 2023-01-13 16:24 KST Modified on : 2023-01-13 16:24 KST
This has been a legal gray era since President Yoon Suk-yeol moved out of the Blue House
Police have been posted outside the Korean presidential office to keep order. (Yonhap)
Police have been posted outside the Korean presidential office to keep order. (Yonhap)

A court has ruled that a police disposition banning rallies in front of the presidential office in Yongsan should be withdrawn, saying the area is not a place where demonstrations are prohibited.

The reason is that the presidential office is not included as part of the presidential residence as stipulated in the Assembly and Demonstration Act. According to this law, outdoor assemblies within 100 meters of the presidential residence are prohibited.

As a result of the court's ruling, it will be difficult for the police to continue its practice of issuing dispositions, which in this case was made arbitrarily and through a broader interpretation of the law.

On Thursday, Judge Park Jeong-dae of the 13th administrative division of the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) against the Yongsan Police Station in which the PSPD called for the notice banning outdoor gatherings near the presidential office to be withdrawn.

“The ban on gatherings near the presidential office issued by the Yongsan Police Station to the PSPD on April 29 last year should be withdrawn,” the court ruled.

Previously, the PSPD applied to hold a rally near the presidential office in Yongsan on May 21 last year when the South Korea-US summit was to be held. However, the group received a notice from local police that such gatherings were banned. As a result, the group applied for the suspension of execution of the police’s ban and filed a lawsuit to have the disposition withdrawn.

“After comprehensively considering various interpretations of the issues in this case, we concluded that the 'presidential office' could not be included as part of the ‘presidential residence', where outdoor rallies and demonstrations are prohibited in accordance with Article 11-3 of the Assembly and Demonstration Act,” the court ruled.

In other words, the court ruled that rallies near the presidential office were possible and not legally prohibited as the police had argued before.

The main issue in this case was whether the presidential office in Yongsan could be considered part of the official presidential residence, where outdoor rallies and demonstrations are prohibited according to the law.

When the presidential office and living space were both located within the precincts of the Blue House, the provision of this law was usually applied to mean a “ban on assemblies within 100 meters of the Blue House grounds."

However, Yoon, who took office last May, did not move into the Blue House but instead separated the locations for the presidential office and his official residence. As a result, controversy arose over how exactly to legally define the new presidential residence, since rallies are not legally permitted to take place near its vicinity.

According to the police, the term “official residence” in the law includes both government offices and residences. “In a situation where the president's office and private residence are separated, it should be interpreted that outdoor rallies are prohibited in both spaces," the police argued, issuing dispositions banning groups from being able to apply to hold rallies near the presidential office in Yongsan.

On the other hand, the PSPD refuted this stance, arguing that it was "illegal to interpret the official residence as including the presidential office," saying this went beyond the scope of the original law. In the end, the court seems to have sided with the PSPD.

“A ruling to the same effect was repeated at the stage of the disposition, but the police continued issuing notices of dispositions banning rallies, saying they would wait until the final ruling was made,” Park Han-hee, a lawyer at Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights, said.

“As long as the meaning of 'official residence' has been clearly interpreted on the merits of the case, it seems that the police should not make such forced claims now,” Park said.

Meanwhile, last month, the clause banning rallies and demonstrations within 100 meters of the presidential residence, which was a key issue in this case, was ruled incompatible with the Constitution at the Constitutional Court.

Similarly, back in December 2018, the Seoul Central District Court said that the clause prohibited rallies without any exceptions, whether they be rallies where a clear risk and danger is present or smaller, peaceful rallies or demonstrations with low levels of risk. “Assemblies and demonstrations are absolutely prohibited within 100 meters without any rational grounds or standards,” the court concluded as a result of a recommendation to review the law's unconstitutionality.

According to the Constitutional Court's decision last month, Article 11 clause 3 of the Assembly and Demonstration Act will lose effect if not amended by May 31, 2024.

By Choi Min-young, staff reporter; Ko Byung-chan, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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