South Korea: Elderly protesters injured as police quash demonstration

South Korea’s authorities must not use excessive force against peaceful protesters, said Amnesty International, after approximately 2,000 police broke up a demonstration, injuring elderly people.  

On 11 June the police descended upon some 300 peaceful protesters demonstrating against the construction of four high-voltage electricity transmission towers in the city of Miryang. 

Media has reported that fourteen protesters were injured as a result of the police actions. According to theMiryang Committee against 765KV Transimission Towers, four people suffered bone fractures.

“The ugly scenes in which elderly women were injured shows the disturbing lengths police will go to break up peaceful protests,” said Arnold Fang, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International. 

“The force used by police at the Miryang protest was disproportionate and in breach of international standards.”

Police dragged the protesters out of their tents and tore the tents down with knives, failing to take into consideration the large number of people inside the tents, the close quarters and the advanced age of the protesters. 

Approximately 77 of the demonstrators were residents of the area, some of whom were elderly people having protested in the tents for more than two years. Amnesty International has previously called on the government to conduct a genuine consultation process with residents on the construction but this has not yet materialized.

Restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly are only permissible under international law if they are necessary to protect a legitimate public interest or the rights of others. Any use of force must have a legitimate law enforcement objective and police must avoid the use of force if at all possible. 

 “The response to this and other recent protests raises concerns about the authorities’ unwillingness to protect the fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression,” said Arnold Fang.

Since 17 May, more than 300 people have been rounded up in police attempts to quell demonstrations and protests, including protests expressing discontent about the government’s response to the Sewol Ferry Disaster in April. 

In March, at the UN Human Rights Council, South Korea voted in favour of a resolution calling on states to protect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association. 

“The government must start practising at home what it is preaching abroad. They must respect the rights of those participating in peaceful protests, not attack them,” said Arnold Fang