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SOUTH KOREA: Decision on the constitutionality of the Act on assembly and demonstration

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south_korea_demo.jpgFORUM-ASIA, together with its members in South Korea has welcomed the request for the South Korean Constitutional CourtĀ to decide on the constitutionality of Article 10 of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration.

Ā The NGOs includeĀ People Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) and Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS).

The request was made by the Seoul Central District Court to the South Korean Constitutional Court on 9 October 2008. The concerned article prohibits public assemblies and demonstrations after sunset and before sunrise.

FORUM-ASIA and its membersĀ believe that the decision of the South Korean Constitutional Court will be a landmark ruling to protect and promote rights of human rights defenders in South Korea and extend democracy in a society.

The Act on Assembly and Demonstration demands that all public assemblies and demonstrations need to obtain prior permission from a designated authority.

Article 10 of the Act also prohibits public assemblies and demonstrations after sunset and before sunrise.

The NGOs said that obtaining prior permission for assembly and demonstration from the authority is not consistent with Article 21 of South Korean Constitution which guarantees all citizensā€™ freedom of speech and assembly.

The mentioned Articles can seriously harm the freedom of assembly and demonstration as most citizens work or study during daytime and would only be able to participate in demonstration or public assemblies after sunset. This is evident in the case of around 1,500 demonstrators who were arrested under the charge of violating this Act in recent crackdowns during candlelight vigils.

Republic of Korea has been considered as an exemplary country in Asia in terms of promoting and protecting human rights and also the government is a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

In addition, right of peaceful assembly is clearly mentioned in Article 21 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that the Republic of Korea has ratified in 1990.

FORUM-ASIA and its members, are therefore, deeply disappointed by the fact that the Act on Assembly and Demonstration has been used in a very deliberate manner during the candlelight vigils to criminalise human rights defenders and their activities in expressing their rights to assembly and having peaceful demonstration.

This is not the first time that a request has been made to decide the constitutionality of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration Article 10. In 1994, the Act was decided as constitutional because the Constitutional Court considered that ā€œit is highly probable that public assemblies after sunset and before sunrise will disturb public orderā€ and ā€œpeople tend to become more violent after sunset and before sunrise.ā€

TheĀ rights of assembly and demonstration are one of fundamental political freedom. The degree of protecting such rights is one of the best indicators of the functioning of a democratic society. It is the obligation of the State Party to ensure the right to peaceful assembly through positive measures.

FORUM-ASIA and its membersĀ view the request on deciding the constitutionality of Article 10 of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration as a good starting point to review the need for obtaining permission to enjoy such rights.

They look forward to hearing the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea recognise the importance of protecting freedom of assembly and demonstration and seize this opportunity to right the wrong.

For more information, please contact:

Yap Swee Seng, Acting Executive Director, +60 12201 5272, email: [email protected];

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, East Asia Programme Manager, +66 87991 4451, email: [email protected]