PSPD in English Civil-Political 2023-11-28   1235

The crackdown of the police and the Seoul Metro on the rally of persons with disabilities is illegal

Today (November 24), police arrested Park Kyeong-seok, a representative of the Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination(SADD), on suspicion of obstructing business, resisting eviction, and sabotaging trains on the platform of Hyehwa Station on Line 4 of the Seoul Subway. The arrest came shortly after he held a press conference to announce his stance on the subway civil disobedience action organized by the Seoul Transportation Corporation. In the process of disrupting the propaganda campaign and arresting him, Mr. Park fell out of his wheelchair and was injured. The police’s violent arrest of SADD for organizing his constitutional rights is condemnable, as it suppresses freedom of assembly and constitutes an unlawful exercise of public power. The police and the city of Seoul must cease their unlawful suppression of rallies by persons with disabilities. They should also recognize that the most effective way to halt SADD’s subway protest is to respond in good faith to the demand for a budget that supports the rights of persons with disabilities.

On November 23, Seoul Metro announced that it would reject SADD’s subway propaganda campaign based on Article 8(5) of the Assembly and Demonstration Act. This article allows for the prohibition or restriction of public demonstrations in residential areas, around schools, and near military facilities. However, this argument lacked a basic understanding of the right to freedom of assembly, with even the police pointing out that it misunderstood the relevant provisions of the Assembly and Demonstration Act. It goes without saying that a subway station is not a residential area, a school, or a military installation. Of course, the police’s allegations of eviction and violation of the Assembly and Demonstration Act are also baseless. Subway stations are open to the public, and there is no provision in the Railway Safety Act.

Above all, the right to mobility, which SADD has been advocating for over 20 years, is comparable to the right to survival for persons with disabilities. It is a fundamental right that must be guaranteed before other rights can be guaranteed, such as the right to access health care for treatment and the right to vote. When persons with disabilities come together to advocate for their right to mobility, they are exercising another essential right in order to protect a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. It is illegal and a violation of their fundamental rights to forcibly interfere with and suppress them. Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who is in charge of the Seoul Metro, called SADD’s subway propaganda campaign as “social terrorism” on his Facebook page and vowed to take strong action against it. However, he failed to acknowledge that the budget for improving mobility for persons with disabilities, which activists have been advocating for from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, has not been included in next year’s budget. Is it truly appropriate for a government official to label a peaceful gathering advocating for fundamental rights as “terrorism,” without acknowledging the government’s obligation to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities?

On November 3, in its concluding observations on the fifth periodic review of the State party’s report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the heavy-handed police response to a protest by disability rights activists in the Seoul subway. It also recommended that all law enforcement officials, including the police, receive comprehensive training on the appropriate use of force during protests. The police, Seoul Metropolitan Government, and Seoul Metro must immediately apologize and cease their unlawful actions. They have supported and facilitated a coercive and unconstitutional response to protests for the right to mobility for persons with disabilities. This has also raised concerns within the international community.

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