Update: Judy Han is also blogging on this. Meanwhile, the BBC Asia-Pacific section leads on the (admittedly horrendous) story of the two US journalists imprisoned by North Korea and its other Korea story is the ‘freezer baby’ case.
Looks like Wednesday this week could be a make or break day for democracy and social movements in South Korea. The Lee Myung-bak government has continued its ‘frog boiling’ strategy of gradually ratcheting up repression since the semi-defeat of last year’s candlelight protest movement. There have also been so many reactionary and repressive moves by this government that I’ve pretty much lost track. There have been many protests against this creeping authoritarianism but none of them have brought the necessary numbers onto the streets to even begin to worry MB. Or at least that was true until the suicide of Roh Moo-hyun which seems to have re-energised people’s anger against this government of the elite for the elite (for all the former presidents faults, his death appears to have thrown the barbarism of the current government into sharp relief).
And now the denial of right of assembly in Seoul that even saw people blocked from gathering in order to mourn Roh seems to have become a new focus for protest. Hopefully this Wednesday’s protest will be a massive show of strength, although there is little chance that the riot police will allow it to pass without violence. But there is no reason that the Korean people can’t be victorious this time around, as they were in the movement that climaxed on 10 June 1987.
If you are in Seoul try to join the protest. I unfortunately am not, but I’ll try to report on this as things happen.
For more on this see the statement put out by the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea below:
Statement from Scholars in North America Concerned about Korean Democracy
10 June 2009
The following represents the considered view of professors and researchers at colleges and universities throughout North America whose thoughts are always with Korea and Korea’s democracy. In light of recent developments in South Korea, we, the undersigned, cannot but express grave concern. Nurtured by the toils and sacrifice of many, Korea’s democracy is a proud asset of the Korean people. The world has watched as the Korean people have moved deliberately, with great determination and at great human cost, from dictatorship toward democracy, over the last six decades. Regrettably, since the inauguration of the President Lee Myung-bak administration, Korean democracy has lost its way.
A democracy must guarantee the freedoms of assembly and association, not only allowing the people to select their own representative through votes but also in order that they may express diverse political opinions. We have observed how the power of the state suppressed last year’s “candlelight vigils,” has issued subpoenas even to ordinary citizens who had participated in the protests, and is restricting the online exchange of ideas. The recent police blockade of Seoul Square is another egregious example of the government of President Lee Myung-bak denying the Korean people the most basic of democratic rights, the freedom to assemble.
A democracy acquires a capacity for self-regulation through the free press. We note with distress that the Public Prosecutor’s Office has questioned journalists critical of the government, and the replacement of major broadcasting networks’ executives with pro-government figures has infringed upon the professional autonomy of rank-and-file reporters. A foundation stone of a democracy, the free and independent press has suffered serious damage.
The Constitution of the Republic of Korea enshrines a system of checks-and-balances among the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of the government. We regretfully recognize and call attention to the fact that since its inauguration, the government has not upheld the principle of checks-and-balances. Moreover, the principle of justice through even and equal application of the law is under attack as can be evidenced through the arbitrary actions of such state organs as the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the police, and the National Tax Service.
Speaking for North American scholars interested in the health and strength of democracy in Korea, we express deep concern over the regression of democracy in Korea. Heart-wrenching incidents such as the death of forced evictees during the police’s suppression of their protest, the suicide of special contract workers, and the shocking decision by the former president to end his own life are all tragic consequences of a democracy that is taking backward steps in Korea; they highlight a democracy in crisis.
A democratically elected government cannot disparage its own people, because the mandate to govern derives from the people. We, the undersigned, urge the government of President Lee Myung-bak to recognize its responsibility for the democracy that has regressed and reorient itself as a government that respects the people’s sovereignty and democratic rights. The nation’s pride, the Korean democracy must again find its direction and return to the natural path of serving the people.