Prosecution vows stern actions against FTA protesters
SEOUL, Nov. 7 (Yonhap) — Prosecutors said Monday they will resort to arrests and physical detention in dealing with protesters against the country’s long-stalled free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S.
Such pledges came as the country is facing rising public protests against the ruling Grand National Party’s likely moves to railroad the FTA bill. Unfounded anti-FTA rumors on the Internet have also stirred public discontent against the free trade pact.
"While legal rallies and demonstrations will be guaranteed to the maximum in accordance with the ’guarantee legality, punish illegality’ principle, (prosecutors) have decided to sternly punish illegal activities like violent protests," prosecution official Im Jeong-hyuk at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said.
The comments followed the prosecution’s meeting with the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as the Korea Communications Commission on how to deal with illicit protests on cyberspace and the streets.
Leaders of such illegal demonstrations or protesters using violence will likely be detained for interrogations while those who participate in unregistered rallies will be rounded up at the scene, the prosecution said.
Prosecutors will also take legal actions against those who spread false stories inciting further dissent on the Internet, they added.
Opposition parties are stepping up their campaign to resist the free trade deal with the U.S., citing an investor-state dispute (ISD) provision that they insist favors the U.S. while the ruling party has been reluctant to ram the FTA bill through parliament for fear of a political backlash in next year’s general and presidential polls.
The U.S. Congress’ approval of the FTA bill last month put pressure on the Seoul government and the GNP to follow suit.
Twenty-four protesters were arrested last week as they attempted to break into the National Assembly as part of their anti-FTA demonstrations while 114 protesters were apprehended in unregistered rallies last month, the prosecution said.
Civic groups criticized the authority’s move to crack down on opponents of the FTA.
"If there are incorrect postings, the government should explain (the FTA) to inform people. Once the government relies on the prosecution’s power on this issue, it will limit freedom of speech online," said Kim Mi-young, a legal director at the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice.