2010 gathering organized by the Youth Union online cafe in Seoul's Myeongdong neighborhood.
By Kim Jeong-pil and Lee Kyung-mi, staff reporters
The Supreme Court ruled on Mar. 31 that even if an assembly is in the form of a ‘Flash Mob’ but is meant to show political and social opinions to the public, then it must be registered beforehand under the Act on Assembly and Demonstration. A flash mob is a group of people who suddenly assemble at a chosen location, perform a specific act (usually a dance routine), then quickly disperse. Criticisms are now being made that requiring such gatherings to be registered in advance constitutes a form of censorship and limits freedom of expression.
Chairman of the Youth Union preparatory committee and administrator of the online cafe Youth Union, Kim Young-kyung, 33, posted a notice on his cafe about a flash mob in front of Myeongdong Theater in Seoul on April 4, 2010.
This was in response to the Youth Union having had its application for recognition as an official union rejected by the Ministry of Employment and Labor. When Kim and ten of his cafe members held a flash mob on the designated date, they were charged under the Act on Assembly and Demonstration.
In court, he expressed his opinion that a ‘Flash mob isn’t an assembly, but rather an art form’. Article 15 of the Assembly and Demonstration Act states that assemblies related with academics, art, physical education, religion, ceremony, amity, entertainment, and wedding rituals are exempt from the need to register in advance.
The first and second courts ruled against Kim and assessed him a 700 thousand won (US$627) fine. The Supreme Court said, “Kim’s encouragement of his cafe members beforehand, choosing to perform in the middle of Myeongdong where many people pass by, and beating drums while rallying with pickets saying ‘Grant the establishment of the Youth Union’ are all acts of criticizing the youth unemployment policy. The nature of their assembly cannot be seen as artistic. They were using the ‘flash mob’ form as an excuse while intending to criticize government policies. Their assembly should have been registered in advance, according to the related laws”.
The precedent followed by the Supreme Court in this case is ‘the people, specific or unspecific, have assembled under a common opinion with the purpose to show their opinion publicly at a specific place for a brief moment’.
The second division of the Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Kim So-young, dismissed Kim’s appeal and upheld the original ruling of a 700 thousand won (US$627) fine on March 31. The Supreme Court ruling stated, “This assembly does not apply to Article 15 of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration, and cannot be seen as an assembly of entertainment or art. It was deemed an open-air meeting with the purpose of censuring government policies on youth unemployment and showing the public political and social opinions”.
It is being pointed out that deciding whether an assembly needs to be registered in advance based on the content of the assembly can be controversial if it is misused as an advance permission system, which limits freedom of expression. Kim’s lawyer, Park Joo-min said, “The reason why the Act on Assembly and Demonstration exists is because of the dangers that arise when people assemble, but judging assemblies according to their content, not their risk of danger, may lead to censorship.”
Korea University Law School professor Park Kyung-shin said, “Having to register an assembly in advance whether or not its content is political is not a regulation of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration. If the assembly is a cultural activity, then it should be free from the register system regardless of its content”.
Translated by Kim Kyung-min, Hankyoreh English intern
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