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[Op-Ed] French Ban on Masked Protesters

Posted June. 23, 2009 09:29,   


Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo, a social psychology professor at Stanford University, conducted in 1971 an experiment on eight women in two groups. The first group was clad in masks and the other wore nametags and showed their faces. Zimbardo then let the women apply an electrical shock to test subjects. The experiment showed that the masked women gave a shock twice as strong as that applied by those whose faces were showing. This illustrates the evil nature of people hidden behind masks.

The portion of masked protestors in violent demonstrations in Korea has continued to increase over the past three years, from 36 (58 percent) of 62 violent demonstrations in 2006, 38 (59 percent) of 64 protests in 2007, and 55 (71 percent) of 77 rallies last year. The correlation between violent demonstrations and masks has also grown. Lawmakers submitted last year a revision bill to the National Assembly and Demonstration Act banning protestors from wearing or helping others to don masks to make it difficult to identify demonstrators. The bill aims to prevent violence by masked protestors, but has been shelved at the parliamentary committee on public administration and security. This is because opposition parties are against the bill, claiming that it infringes on freedom of assembly and demonstration.

France over the weekend announced a prime ministerial order banning protestors from wearing masks in public places. A first-time violator will be fined up to 1,500 euros (2,087 U.S. dollars) and a second offense committed within a year after the first will be fined up to 3,000 euros (4,175 dollars). The move was taken to prevent the clashes that erupted in April at the NATO summit in Strasbourg, which provoked public criticism of violent demonstrations. Demonstrators wearing hempen hoods set cars on fire and robbed gas stations in the city. Germany introduced the ban on demonstrations by masked protestors in 1989, and the rule has spread to Switzerland and Austria.

In France, the level of punishment in the prime ministerial order has been modified amid fears that the ban could restrict the right to assembly and demonstration. Yet the penalties for a violation remain harsh. Nobody in France has criticized the measure as “dictatorial.” In Korea, masked demonstrators regularly attack police and often use bamboo spears and iron pipes. The right to assembly and demonstration is not an unrestricted freedom that allows demonstrators to freely injure or kill police and damage national and private property.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)