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[Op-Ed] Handcuffed U.S. Lawmakers

Posted April. 29, 2009 03:07,   


Five Democratic Party congressmen were arrested by police in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington Monday. The five crossed a police line while protesting the expulsion of international aid groups by Sudan. Despite three warnings, they refused to budge and were led away in handcuffs. A 60-something woman has been protesting alone in front of the White House for 28 years, but police have done nothing to her. These incidents clearly demonstrate that American police guarantee legal protests while strictly enforcing laws on illegal protests.

Few countries in the world – whether developing or developed – have illegal protests like those in Korea. Violent protesters roamed the center of Seoul for three months. Instead of curbing the illegal demonstrations, police were harassed and attacked by protesters. A few days ago, tenants tried to keep police at bay by using propane gas tanks for 10 hours to stop them from implementing a court order at a Seoul hotel. This is reminiscent of the Jan. 19 Yongsan fire that killed six people. It comes as no surprise that Korea ranks 27th out of 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in observance of law.

Police set a do-not-cross line at a demonstration to ensure a legal protest and maintain order. Crossing a police line is a crime in Korea subject to up to six months in prison or a fine of 500,000 won (368 U.S. dollars). Many protesters in Korea cross the police line. When police try to enforce the line, they are often accused of using excessive force. The Kim Dae-jung administration adopted a “lipstick line” using policewomen instead of a police line but in vain.

To rid the country of illegal protests, the government needs a firm determination to set the rule of law, and lawmakers must take the lead. U.S. congressmen arrested for crossing the police line did not resist police. This is hard to imagine in Korea. If a Korean lawmaker faced arrest for crossing the police line, he would demand the police commissioner’s resignation. A police officer said, “We will have the police line in all demonstrations.” How well police and demonstrators respect the line remains uncertain, however.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)