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Enforce law on illegal protesters strictly
DECEMBER 30, 2013 04:52  
Downtown Seoul became anarchy on the last weekend of December. Protesters who joined a massive strike organized by a labor group took to the street. They ignored the police line, and even occupied the roads around the plaza in front of the city hall for three hours. The 10-lane roads in downtown Seoul were blocked and traffic was shut down. Protesters beat and swore at the reporters from Channel A and TV Chosun, hindering their news coverage. They held drinking bouts on the corners of downtown Seoul.

Workers have the right of assembly and protests. However, they can do so unless they infringe others freedom and rights. The right can be guaranteed only when protests are held within the police line agreed by both the representative of the protest and police in advance. In developed countries, a protestor who crosses the police line a bit is arrested on the site immediately not to mention the illegal occupation of roads.

The police line collapsed instantly with the protesters shouting. Police issued the order of dissolution four times but did not take any stronger action. It can be seen as its flexible strategy to prevent excessive collision and not to excite the protesters. Taxi drivers, however, were hit by the illegal violent protest by railway workers who are paid an average of 68 million won (64,490 US dollars). They earn about 20 million won (18,970 dollars) per year, which is less than a third of the salary of the railway union members. Few people root for the protestors who took to the street and stopped traffic as if stopping railway service was not enough. Many restaurants in the downtown area had to lose their business in traditionally high season because of the strike. Therefore, those who came to downtown with their family or friends had many inconveniences.

The protesters also trampled on the freedom of speech. They obstructed news coverage by reporters from Channel A and TV Chosun, which have criticized the railway union strike. They could have criticized the media using their own public relations or other media outlets. Beating or swearing at reporters beyond hindering their news coverage is a serious threat to the freedom of speech.

The Park Geun-hye administration should stick to the principle to the illegal protestors just as it did to the illegal strike. Police and courts need to regain their authority to prevent a repeat of illegal protests by protesters who crisscrossed the public roads and crossed the police line. It may be difficult to correct the bad habit that has been there since the pro-democracy demonstration in 1987, but they need to correct it little by little.

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