This Wednesday, photo shows lawmakers voting on the passage of a bill to strengthen punishment for stalking perpetrators during a plenary meeting held at the National Assembly Complex in southern Seoul. (Yonhap)
The consistent stalking of others will constitute a crime that can be punished by up to three years of imprisonment under a new law.
The National Assembly passed a bill on a 235-0 vote Wednesday to strengthen the punishment for stalkers amid growing public voices calling for increasing penalties for the offense.
The legislation was made 22 years after an initial move was made to stipulate stalking as a crime by law.
Until now, stalking has been categorized as a misdemeanor and was punished only with a fine not exceeding 100,000 won (US$88) or 29 days in jail, sparking criticism that weak punishment has led to an increase in related crimes.
In 2019, the number of stalking crime cases handled by the police stood at 583, nearly twofold compared with 312 in 2013, according to data compiled by the National Police Agency.
Under the new law, acts of approaching, following or blocking a victim against his or her will; waiting for or observing a victim in and around his or her residence, workplace or school; and causing anxiety or fear through mail, telephone or IT networks are legally categorized as acts of stalking.
Continuous and repeated execution of these actions constitutes stalking crimes, according to the new law.
Stalkers can face up to three years in prison or 30 million won in fine. The punishment could be aggravated to a maximum of five-year imprisonment or a fine of 50 million won when a weapon or other dangerous object is used.
The new legislation also mandates measures to prevent stalking from evolving into more serious crimes.
In cases of early signs of potential offenses, the police can take preemptive emergency measures, such as issuing restraining orders banning potential suspects from coming within 100 meters of the victim and online contact, and receive court authorization later on.
Prosecutors can also request the court to permit a detainment extension when they assess that the risk of additional offenses exists.
Despite the bill's passage, anti-stalking activists have expressed disappointment, arguing that it fails to address aspects of the fundamentally troubling nature of stalking crimes.
"Under the new law, acts of stalking must occur repeatedly in order to be treated as a crime. But victims can experience horror and anxiety even from a single incident," Korea Women's Hot Line, a victims' advocacy and protection group, said.
The group also pointed to the lack of measures in protecting victims' families and partners, as well as rehabilitation support programs for victims. "A more effective law centered around stronger punishment and protection of victims' rights should be introduced," the group said. (Yonhap)