Weekly Brief: Sept. 5th – Sept. 11th

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“Just take off the mask”

Demonstrators wearing masks may soon be subject to sentences of up to 18 months despite an absence of legislation on the matter. The Supreme Court issued sentencing guidelines last week that view masks as aggravating factors on obstruction of justice charges. Following mass demonstrations late last year, President Park likened the demonstrators to the Islamic State terrorists and called on officials to develop strong countermeasures. In asking the courts to introduce a sentence for a behavior that it disapproves of, the administration has effectively criminalized wearing masks during demonstrations and in doing so circumvented the National Assembly.

No More National Service?

The idea of changing to a voluntary military system with fewer soldiers who are better paid and better trained has entered the public consciousness in a big way. It remains to be seen if this is a serious attempt to affect what would be a monumental shift in South Korean society or simply a populist pledge by politicians to gain favor before the coming presidential election, but it’s certainly tempting to imagine the all knock-on effects such a policy shift would have.

I thought you said “non-lethal”

Police water cannons used against a demonstrator last November were significantly over the acceptable pressure limit and were operated by officers who were not properly trained in their use. This information came out in the lead up to a hearing scheduled for today at the National Assembly into the excessive violence used by police against Baek Nam-gi, a farmer who participated in the mass demonstration in downtown Seoul on November 14th. Baek has been in a coma since then with little chance of recovery after suffering significant brain damage when he was knocked over by a water cannon.

Stranded at Sea

Approximately 1000 crew in total are in limbo aboard 50 ships belonging to the embattled Hanjin Shipping. After the company entered court receivership two weeks ago its ships have been refused permission to dock at international ports due to fears that the company will be unable to pay port usage fees. Each ship has 15 days worth of emergency supplies but when they run out it is not likely the company will be in a position to resupply them.


Your dose of positivity

Denied the opportunity in her youth, one former ‘comfort woman’ finally gets her chance to sing.

Your dose of negativity

The guardrails on Mapo Bridge in Seoul will be raised another metre and will now be curved inward. This comes after the abject failure of the ‘Bridge of Life’ positivity campaign to decrease the number of suicide attempts on the bridge. South Korea’s suicide rate has long been the highest in the OECD, with the bridges over the Han River seeing hundreds of attempts per year.

Day of the Week

Friday (September 9th) was Organ Donation Day in South Korea. Through organ donation you can save 9 lives, according to the Korean Organ Donor Program, hence the date.

In brief

Long reads for your commute

  • The Human Rights Council’s third session of 2016 begins on Tuesday, and with that the statement released by the UN’s Special Rapporteur for hazardous substances in August was being discussed in the media again. If you didn’t read it then it’s worth a read now. In addition to well known issues such as leukemia at Samsung plants and lethal dehumidifier disinfectant, you can read about toxic artificial grass in school playgrounds, extreme pollution from the 10,000 factories in Gimpo, and the large number of power plants in close proximity to dense residential areas (skip down to “Issues in focus” on page 8).
  • A written statement submitted to the Human Rights Council from a South Korean policy think tank on the practice of businesses hiring private security contractors (i.e. thugs) to disrupt union activities and governments employing similar groups to remove shops belonging to street vendors.

Image: SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA- 5 Dec 2015: A female protester holds a sign wishing for the watercanonned farmer Baek Nam-gi’s recovery. Protesters wear various masks in reaction to President Park Geun-hye’s comment likening masked protestors to the Islamic State. Photo by Jun Michael Park.

Weekly Brief is a collection of the must-read articles regarding human rights and social issues in South Korea, produced in collaboration with the Korea Human Rights Foundation.

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