Members of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union take part in a rally outside the National Assembly on Sept. 20 to call for amendments to the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act. (Yonhap)
South Korea’s central government has announced that it will propose an amendment that would ban assemblies and demonstrations during late-night hours, defined as between 12 am and 6 am.
Coming after courts have repeatedly thwarted attempts by the police to quash rallies and protests, this move is being decried as an attempt by the government to curtail freedom of assembly by amending the law to circumvent the Constitution and court rulings.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo held a meeting of ministers in which he announced the government would be pursuing a “plan to improve the culture of assemblies and demonstrations,” which includes amending the Assembly and Demonstration Act.
Han reasoned that “late-night assemblies and excessive noise violate people’s right to peace and quiet, and roadblocks during high-traffic hours cause a lot of inconvenience to the general public,” adding that “illegal assemblies and demonstrations consume a lot of police resources, which can be detrimental to their ability to maintain security.”
The government announced it would pursue amendments to eight pieces of legislation, including the Assembly and Demonstration Act and the Act on the Management of Outdoor Advertisements.
The amendments include a total ban on late-night assemblies, reinforcing noise regulations by strengthening methods of measuring noise, establishing a procedure for notifying the road management authorities of assemblies in advance, clarifying the criteria for judging assemblies and demonstrations on major roads such as rush hour, and increasing the penalties for damaging or infringing on police lines.
The police have decided to strengthen their response to assemblies and demonstrations too, regardless of any changes to the law.
From the stage of reporting a rally, the police will actively consider issuing restriction and prohibition notices, dispersal orders, and direct dispersal measures in case of non-compliance. Drone surveillance will be introduced for large-scale assemblies, and specialized assembly and demonstration investigation teams will be operated in areas where assemblies and marches are frequent.
The police also announced that they will actively seek compensation for material damages and personal damages to police officers caused by illegal acts during rallies.
Civic organizations are concerned about the detrimental effect these developments are likely to have on public assembly.
“Since dispositions are repeatedly blocked by the judiciary, the move intends to block judicial rulings through legislation,” commented Park Han-hee, an attorney who has represented several plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging the police’s issuance of dispositions.
“Even if the laws aren’t amended, this move is aimed at intimidating the public by insinuating that the mere act of joining an assembly can make you a criminal,” she said.
By Jang Na-rye, staff reporter; Kwak Jin-san, staff reporter
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