Three protesters killed in clashes as court upholds President Park's impeachment

Peaceful Assembly

As reported extensively on the CIVICUS Monitor, since October 2016 a wave of citizen action has swept through South Korea. In light of the corruption scandal involving former President Park, massive rallies have taken place calling for her impeachment every Saturday for the past five months. On 10th March 2017, Park's impeachment was finally upheld by the Constitutional Court in Seoul. 

The protests have been largely peaceful. However, after the court ruling on Park's impeachment, demonstrations turned violent. On 11th March 2017, both supporters and critics of Park gathered outside the Constitutional Court, where 20,000 South Korean security forces were stationed in anticipation of a potential confrontation. Several individuals broke through police cordons and climbed on buses that had been used as barricades. As clashes erupted between police and Park’s supporters, three people were killed and dozens injured. The police also detained seven protesters for questioning.

In the evening of 11th March 2017, Park's critics held their 20th candlelight vigil in Gwanghwamun Square. It was the last of their weekly protests that have been ongoing for the past five months.

The Court, which upheld the decision to impeach Park, ruled that her conduct undermined the rule of law and the principles of a representative democracy. The Seoul-based CSO, Asia Democracy Network, commented on the political upheaval in the country, stating: 

"The Asia Democracy Network congratulates South Korea on its perseverance of rule of law and democracy. It has been three months since the people of Korea took to the streets participating in peaceful demonstrations weekly, resisting and calling for the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye after a corruption scandal was revealed...Such a historic decision is an affirmation of the constitutional principle of rule of law, accountability, and the fundamental principle that no one is above the law of the land".

The relentless five-month swell in citizen action has been widely praised for the largely peaceful protests and demonstrations. A wide variety of activists from across the social spectrum participated in actions against Park's complicity in corruption scandals. The former President's opponents are now demanding her prosecution. Protesters have also recently called for the ousting of acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn who played a central role in the Park administration and refused an independent investigation into the scandal.

Expression

As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, a blacklist was discovered with the names of nearly 10,000 left-wing artists who were under potential surveillance by the authorities. Some allege that the blacklist was also used to block funding to those who had been critical of the Park administration. On 28th February 2017, the Seoul Central District Court initiated a trial on the surveillance case with two former Park aides at the first preparatory hearing. And on 14th February 2017, a group of more than 450 South Korean artists filed a lawsuit against impeached President Park’s former chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon, and former culture minister, Cho Yoon-sun, for the damages caused by the blacklist.