South Korea: Authorities Must Cease Restrictions and Reprisals against Miryang Protestors
10 October 2013 2:44 pm
(Bangkok, 10 October 2013) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a regional human rights group representing 47 member organizations in 16 countries across Asia, including South Korea, strongly condemns the arrests and crackdowns against villagers and human rights defenders protesting the construction of power transmission towers in Miryang, the Republic of Korea. The construction of the towers recently resumed on 1 October 2013 after a 126-day suspension that failed to further establish any mechanism for consultation or dialogue with affected individuals and communities. The latest series of protests is part of a wider eight year struggle mounted by Miryang residents against the construction project of 765kV Transmission Towers.
Over the past two weeks, human rights violations have been documented and reported daily by monitoring teams who have visited the various protest sites in Miryang since construction re-commenced. However, the authorities have in some instances arbitrarily denied entry of medical personnel and assembly monitoring teams into certain sites. Also, for a number of protests sites, the distribution of water, food and tents provided by human rights monitoring teams for the villagers and protestors, is controlled by the police. The limited access has rendered the obtaining of timely and accurate information, including the injury toll from police actions, difficult. Other violations include the arrests and charges filed against peaceful protestors as well as incidents of excessive use of force by the police. Illegal surveillance and photographing of protestors by security personnel has also been reported. Currently, four individuals have been charged for their participation in the protests and among the four, one is being held in detention.
“All individuals have the right to peacefully protest against large-scale developmental projects. They must be able to articulate and claim their right to live in a safe, clean and healthy environment. All forms of harassment, threats and intimidation employed by the authorities against the villagers and environmental rights defenders create a chilling effect and aim to silence voices of legitimate dissent,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, FORUM-ASIA’s Executive Director.
Evidently, the South Korean government has not heeded the calls made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, after her recent visit to South Korea from 29 May-7 June 2013. She had explicitly acknowledged that defenders and community residents protesting against large-scale development projects, especially those in Miryang and Jeju Island, face important challenges such as the lack of consultation and effective participation in the development projects as well as lack of protection in carrying out their work.
It is further appalling that the authorities employ provisions under the Criminal Act- such as the “obstruction of business”- to criminalize human rights defenders for their human rights-related activities and with a view to sanction or deter others from participating in the protests. This again contradicts the call by the Special Rapporteur after her visit to “avoid the criminalization and use of heavy penalties against the work of defenders by conducting a thorough review of those laws and regulations affecting the exercise of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of association and peaceful assembly which are essential to claim other rights, with a view to bring these laws in compliance with international standards.”
With the series of protests in Miryang expected to continue and escalate in the coming weeks, it is imperative that the government takes measures to create an enabling environment for the villagers and environmental rights defenders to express their grievances and aspirations without any fear of reprisals. Communities affected by large-scale development projects must be involved at all stages of the project. In the absence of any expressed commitment to do so, the construction of the transmission towers should cease and the government must establish mechanisms for consultation and effective participation of all stakeholders involved.
“The authorities must take measures to facilitate and enable the right to freedoms of expression and assembly of the protestors. We remind the security personnel to observe and comply with operational protocols when dealing with peaceful protestors and desist from employing excessive force. We also urge the government to unconditionally and immediately drop all charges against individuals in relation to the exercise of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” stressed Balais-Serrano.
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 Three protestors are charged for violating Article 136 of the Criminal Code (Obstruction of Business) and 1 protestor is charged under the Punishment of Violence, etc. Act.