Urgent Appeal to Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
A content-based disapproval of using Seoul Plaza and blockade of City Hall and Chungkye stream area
Ever since the traumatic experience with the nationwide candlelit protests against Mad Cow Disease and US beef import in the summer of 2008, which lasted for three months and involved thousands of citizens per day, the Lee administration has been reluctant to allow assemblies at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall, in which was the main stage for the protests.
The government has restricted freedom of assembly mainly in two ways in the past year.
Firstly, by rejecting requests to hold assemblies organized by groups which are known to be against the government’s policies, while permitting events held by pro-governmental organizations, the government regulated access to Seoul Plaza and Chungkye stream in a content-based manner. As a result, even a cultural festival which had been held annually was vaporized in 2009.
Secondly, police force was used to obstruct access to these locations. Police men and vehicles were used to block the premises entirely.
However, Seoul Plaza and the neighboring Chungkye stream area hold symbolic value as public places to hold assemblies and voice one’s opinions. Because of their symbolic significance, regulations of such locations, at times with sheer manpower, and at times based on the content of the assembly, are overt violations of freedom of expression, namely freedom of assembly.
Furthermore, as an aftermath of candlelit protests against Mad Cow Disease, the government labeled NGOs that participated in the vigils as illegal violent rallies and excluded them from the recipients’ list of the governmental subsidy.
3. The violation of freedom of assembly
The government violated the fundamental rights enumerated in the constitution by disallowing the use of Seoul Plaza and Chungkye stream area and physically blocking access to City Hall by encircling it with police patrol buses bumper to bumper.
‣ The Specifics of Disapproving and Blocking Access to City Hall and Chungkye Stream Area.
On July 6th, 2007, when the 60th anti-US beef demonstration against importing US beef older than 20 months which has potential hazard of contracting mad cow disease was held, the police intercepted all approaches to Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall after 6:30pm by mobilizing police forces.
On June 29th, to ban candlelit protest, the police buses and riot police surrounded City Hall after 5pm and cut off all citizens’ access. Furthermore, the police intercepted all roads from Gwanghwamoon to City Hall including Chungkye stream by blocking it with patrol buses.
On July 12th, 2008, the police closed off all areas of City Hall and part of Gwanghwa to stop candlelit protest after 2pm.
On May 3rd, 2009, the police sealed all Chungkye stream area to bar the 1st anniversary of candlelit protest after 7pm by mobilizing 161 companies and 11,000 riot police.
To mourn the death of the former president of Korea, Roh Moo Hyun, people tried to install a makeshift mourning booth. However, the government disapproved, and further mobilized the police to make sure the booth was not set up. The police blocked the Seoul Plaza area from May 23rd to 29th, 8am. On May 24th, all exits of City Hall Subway Station were under the police’s control.
The Joint Commemoration Committee, composed of several civic groups such as People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, requested for permission to use Seoul Plaza to hold Roh’s memorial ceremony on May 27th. Although Seoul City permitted its use, Lee Dalgon, the secretary of Ministry of Public Administration and Security (the chairperson of the Funeral Committee) cancelled the permission. In the end, the memorial ceremony was held at a different location. The police also blocked all sites of City Hall with its buses on this day.
On May 29th, Roh’s funeral was held at City Hall. After the ceremony was done, thousands of people continued mourning with their condolences and lit up candles till the next morning. Then, at 5: 30 am, the police started to disperse mourners coercively, and closed off Seoul Plaza again with its buses.
4. Information on the source of the communications
MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Deomocratic Society
5F, Sinjeong B/D, 1555-3, Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, P.O. 137-070
Tel: 82 2 522 7284 Fax: 82 2 522 7285
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
HP : http://minbyun.jinbo.net
The National Police Agency Sealed City Hall and Chungkye by encircling them with its police buses
▲ On 29th, the Police blocked up Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall by parking patrol buses bumper to bumper and dispatching riot police ⓒthe Pressian
▲ The police cordoned off the crosswalk between the Seoul Plaza and Daehanmun ⓒThe Pressian
▲The patrol buses surrounded the City Halll and part of Taepyung Avenue.ⓒNewsis
▲The riot police’s blockade of all subway exits of City Hall station ⓒThe Pressian
▲The police stood guard on pathway. ⓒthe Pressian
▲The Chungkye where ‘Hi Seoul Festival’ is held is filled with riot police instead of spectators. ⓒThe Pressian
The Hankyoreh, Jun, 8, 2009
Seoul Plaza in front of Seoul’s City Hall has become a symbol of the stifling the freedom of assembly, and citizens have launched a campaign to amend Seoul City regulations and have it returned to the public. Seoul City regulations specify that the plaza is to be used only as a space for citizens’ leisure and cultural activities, leading some to call it a “half-plaza” that limits citizens’ free expression of their opinions through assemblies and demonstrations.
A press conference is scheduled to be held at Seoul Plaza at noon on June 8. Representatives will be attending from the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, the Seoul chapters of the Korean Student Federation, the opposition Democratic Party, the Democratic Labor Party, the Creative Korea Party and the New Progressive Party. They plan to announce the launching of a campaign to call for the amendment of the city’s regulations determining the allowed uses of Seoul Plaza.
“The city of Seoul does not permit use of Seoul Plaza for assembly purposes, and the police have it surrounded with a barrier of buses because they say they anticipate illegal demonstrations,” a source from PSPD said on Sunday. “They need to change the regulations so that Seoul Plaza, which became a symbolic space of Korean democracy all the way back during the June Struggle of 1987 to last year’s candlelit protest demonstrations, can become an open plaza where the freedom of assembly is guaranteed,” the source added.
The June 1987 Democratic Uprising or 6.10 had brought about a peaceful regime change in South Korea
According to the city of Seoul’s regulations on the use and management of Seoul Plaza, the principal use of the plaza is limited to “citizens’ wholesome leisure and culture activities.” Civic groups plan to have this part changed part to add content about “the holding of constitutionally guaranteed assemblies” so that assemblies and demonstrations will be possible in the plaza. They also intend to remove an item specifying that those intending to use the plaza must receive a permit from Seoul City at least seven days prior, and aim to create a “plaza citizens’ commission” to enable the gathering of citizen opinions on operating the plaza. Additionally, they are looking at plans to change the name of “Seoul Plaza” to a desirable name like “Democracy Plaza.”
Current local government laws guarantee citizens the right to mount a petition challenge to local government regulations if signatures of more than 1 percent of area voters are gathered. To alter or abolish a regulation in the city of Seoul currently requires the signatures of 80,968 people.
The right to request an alteration and/or an abolition of a regulation, together with the right for residents’ audit requests, residents’ litigation rights, and the residents’ recall system, is part of the direct democracy system recognized by local government law. Following the implementation of this system in August 1999, four campaigns to alter and/or abolish regulations have been attempted in Seoul alone. Among these four, a campaign of some 160,000 to amend school food provision regulations succeeded in amending the regulation in question to stipulate the “use of superior agricultural products.” Currently, university student groups and civic groups are working together on a signature campaign for the enactment of a “tuition interest support regulation” by which the city of Seoul would assume responsibility for interest costs on university students’ tuition loans.
“A civic campaign to ensure the freedom of assembly, which is in danger of suffocation, will begin around the nationwide anniversary of 6.10 rallies,” said PSPD official Park Won-seok.
<Annex 3> KBS world, Jun, 4, 2009
Seoul Plaza Opens to Public
Police reopened Seoul Plaza to the public on Thursday.
Police vehicles had been cutting off access to the plaza to prevent demonstrators from holding rallies there in memory of former President Roh Moo-hyun.
The Seoul Metropolitan Traditional Music Orchestra will hold hour-long concerts at the plaza on Thursday and Friday evenings.
On Thursday of next week, ”The Ballerina who Fell in Love with a B-boy” musical will be staged.
A concert will be held on June 15th for the British tenor Paul Potts, a former cell phone salesman who became an international star after winning the first “Britain’s Got Talent” competition in 2007.
A number of free events, including ballets and fashion shows, will also be held at the plaza on a nightly basis.
<Annex 4> The Hankyoreh, Jun, 11, 2009
100,000 citizens’ voices for restoration democracy ring through Seoul Plaza
Participants ask for President Lee’s apology and a change in methods of governance, while some were thwarted en route to Blue House by police
An estimated 100,000 people participated in the ‘Citizens’ Rally to Carry on the Mantle of the June Struggle and Reclaim Democracy’ held in Seoul Plaza on the night of June 10. The rally was hosted by approximately 500 civic organizations, four major religious orders and political parties, including the Democratic Party (DP), the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), the Creative Korea Party (CKP) and the New Progressive Party (NPP).
During the rally, several leaders of sponsoring organizations delivered speeches, including DP Chairperson Chung Sye-kyun, Jinbo Corea President Lee Kang-sil, and Minbyun-Lawyers for Democratic Society President Baek Seung-heon. In addition, representatives of unions, farmer associations, student federations, women’s groups, media outlets and academia read a collective resolution urging the Lee Myung-bak administration to restore democracy and change the keynote in its methods of governance.
“President Lee Myung-bak is trying to suffocate democracy, and even in the wake of former President Roh Moo-hyun’s death has only strengthened his unilateral style of governing the country,” they said. “We will engage in direct and wide-scale action if President Lee continues to ignore the people’s wish to discontinue his unilateral exercising of power,” they added. The representatives demanded a presidential apology, a cease in the use of suppressive measures, a priority to create policies that support people’s livelihood, a restoration of peaceful inter-Korean relations, and a change in his methods of governance. They also announced the start of a signature campaign.
Prior to the rally, some citizens had marched towards Gwangwhamun in the direction of the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) shouting, “Overthrow the Dictatorship,” but were blocked by riot police who were part of the 22,000-member police force that was deployed around Seoul Plaza.
The rally concluded peacefully at 10:20 p.m. Some participants attempted to go through Gwangwhamun afterwards, but were dispersed by police at 11:15 p.m.
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