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[Editorial] A Ban on Candlelight Vigils

Posted April. 18, 2007 03:05,   


The opposition Grand National Party submitted a bill for a revision of the election law to the National Assembly to forbid candlelight vigils during the election campaign period and to change the wording of the third provision of article 103 in the election law.

Currently the law stipulates, “No one is allowed to hold group gatherings such as rallies or outdoor activities to intentionally influence the results of elections during campaign seasons.” The GNP aims to add “candlelight vigils” to the list of prohibited group gatherings.

With the presidential election coming along, the opposition party’s worry over candlelight protests is quite understandable given their strong impact in the past. Indeed, the GNP took a severe blow from candle light vigils after the deaths of two South Korean teen-age girls run over by a U.S. armored vehicle during the 2002 presidential campaign, and protests against the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun around the 2004 general elections. Of course it wants to nip such vigils in this year’s campaign in the bud.

However, a comprehensive ban on candlelight vigils could violate the freedom of assembly and association guaranteed by the national constitution in the first place. Outdoor gatherings after sunset such as candlelight vigils can be allowed on conditions set by police to maintain public order, and if reported in advance. The ban on “outdoor activities to intentionally influence the results of elections” already includes vigils. Stipulating a ban on candlelight vigils with a legal system to regulate them already in place seems to be a hysterical reaction that runs counter to the general public’s sentiment.

Furthermore, the bill’s intended “ban on candlelight vigils with the possibility of influencing election results” itself is ambiguous. It is hard to tell whether the party wants an outright ban on every candlelight vigil for its possible impact on elections or if it intends to restrict vigils that can influence election results. Figuring out the nature of protests in advance to keep them from taking place sounds extremely unrealistic.

Clearly, politically motivated candlelight vigils that masquerade as memorial ceremonies, cultural events, or religious gatherings must not find a way around the law on assembly and demonstrations, banning on night rallies, or the election law banning group gatherings. It is the job of law enforcement authorities, not the GNP, to restrict vigils and take sterner measures, however. Confusion and conflict will occur if the party boycotts the vigils themselves.