Go to contents

Arrested Beef Protesters Get Lenient Punishment

Posted June. 26, 2008 03:06,   


The candlelight protests against U.S. beef imports marked their 55th day yesterday, with many arrested protesters found guilty by courts. Most of the offenders, however, have received suspended sentences that many legal experts consider a slap on the wrist.

Courts deem as illegal an act running afoul of the law and the original purpose of the rally. Therefore, those found guilty include people who chanted political slogans and occupied roads, blocking traffic. Prison terms have also gone to most of those who used violence in the protests.

○ Political slogans ruled illegal

The Dong-A Ilbo kept track of 21 people arrested for violations committed during the candlelight rallies and protests between January and June 22. All 21 were found guilty.

Nine of the 21 defendants appealed the fines they received. Thus, the courts were barred from imposing heavier penalties on the culprits. Minor cases mostly involved the charge of disturbing the peace. The courts handed down fines of 500,000 to three million won as requested by prosecutors.

One court slapped a fine of three million won on a labor union leader who tried to force entry into a private teaching institute during a rally to protest the firing of a driver.

The other 12 cases involved charges ranging from obstruction of traffic and justice to intentional damage of public assets. Suspended sentences were given to all defendants who used violence and harmed other individuals or broke private property.

The Seoul Central District Court gave prison terms with a two-year stay of execution to members of the Korea Farmers’ League who held protests against free trade agreements in Seoul from 2005 to last year. The defendants were found guilty of damaging police vehicles and using violence with iron batons.

○ Illegal means not condoned

Liberals who support the candlelight protests say the guilty verdicts discourage freedom of speech. One person who has participated in the protests said, “Most candlelight rallies are like festivals and consist of voluntary participants. We used violence just to defend ourselves.”

But the law says a person shall abide by law in substance and procedure to express his or her ideas legitimately in a democratic society. The courts also say the intentional use of violence threatens the integrity of the purpose itself.

Criticism is growing over the leniency shown to violent protesters, with many saying a suspended sentence is just a slap on the wrist. A court spokesman said, “Some prosecutors did not want to irritate the public and just pushed for lenient punishment. In addition, defendants vehemently denied premeditated participation in the protests. We couldn’t impose severe penalties.”

A lawyer said, “All are slaps on the wrist. That’s why people are threatening authorities and begging to be arrested. Of course, there are some anachronistic provisions. But it’s basic law enforcement to punish those who use violence against government authorities and break other people’s property. We need to levy tougher penalties on them.”