The Korea Herald


Presidential office likely to seek change to law on rallies

Yoon vows never to surrender to 'unlawful protests'

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : July 4, 2023 - 15:44

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Yang Kyung-soo, chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, leads chants during a strike on Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul, on Sunday afternoon. (Yonhap) Yang Kyung-soo, chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, leads chants during a strike on Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul, on Sunday afternoon. (Yonhap)

The presidential office is anticipated to propose a revision to the existing Assembly Act, following nationwide debate that revealed a significant majority favoring stricter sanctions against public assemblies and demonstrations, according to sources and news reports on Monday.

According to a presidential office-led nationwide debate titled "Bolstering requirements and penalties for assemblies and demonstrations," 71 percent, 129,416 people, favored increasing sanctions, while 29 percent, 53,288 people, were against the idea. The debate was conducted between June 13 and July 2.

Supporters of the revision say the current law gives greater power to freedom of assembly and does not adequately balance private individuals' right to health and peace. Meanwhile, opponents of the revision say that rights to assembly and demonstration are constitutionally protected, and that adequate regulations already exist, such as prior notification and noise standards.

After evaluating the results of the national conversation, the presidential office plans to recommend amendments to the current Enforcement Decree of the Assembly and Demonstration Act to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security.

Proposed revisions may include amplifying noise control standards, limiting the blocking of roads or public transportation during commuting hours, placing restrictions on late-night and early morning gatherings, establishing constraints near residential areas, schools and hospitals and intensifying fines and penalties for unlawful assemblies.

The results of the debate align with President Yoon Suk Yeol's stern position on labor unions.

The president said Tuesday he would "never surrender to unlawful protests," but would "steadfastly respond to threats," defining the protesters as "those who endanger the people and the national economy."

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions — known as the more aggressive of the nation's two largest labor organizations — launched a two-week general strike on Monday, calling for Yoon's resignation.

"It would be better to abandon hopes of gaining anything through illegal protests and strikes," Yoon was quoted as saying by his spokesperson Lee Do-woon.

The union held a press conference in front of the presidential office on Sunday, indicating that the general strike will act as a catalyst to galvanize the movement, demanding the resignation of the Yoon administration.

It presented key demands related to the strike: stop the oppression of labor unions, halt Japan's dumping of nuclear-contaminated water and increase the minimum wage.

On the day of the announcement, approximately 1,300 union members, including courier drivers from the federation union, gathered near the Gwanghwamun area in central Seoul. More protests have been scheduled by unionized metal workers for July 12. For the first time in five years, the Hyundai Motors union is set to engage in a two-hour partial strike on the same day, with the HD Hyundai Heavy Industries union confirming its participation in the demonstration.

Health care and medical union protests are anticipated to take place on July 13 and 14. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and the office finance union are expected to join around this period as well.

Police records indicate that the number of reported assemblies in Seoul reached a record high of 39,036 last year. This represents a steady climb from 29,592 in 2018 and 36,551 in 2019, followed by a slight dip to 34,944 in 2020 and 33,497 in 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With easing quarantine regulations, the upward trend resumed. By the end of May this year, the number of reported assemblies was estimated to be near 15,000.