Public security authorities warn of stern response to demonstrations on Yongsan tragedy

Civic groups preparing large-scale demonstrations for the weekend object to the measures, calling them an attempt to quell public opinion

Public security authorities, including the prosecutors and police, warned of more hard-line responses to the candlelight demonstrations taking place following the Yongsan demolition protest tragedy. They made it clear that they do not intend to accept even opposition to an investigation that many say places responsibility for the tragedy on the protesters. The prosecutors also postponed the release of its investigation from Friday to after the weekend on Monday.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office announced Thursday that it plans to hold a meeting on countermeasures with related organizations, including the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, and take strict measures against illegal assemblies and protests on the recent fire that took six lives at a Yongsan building slated for demolition.

“The Committee Against the Brutal Suppression of the Yongsan Demolition Protest plans to use the incident as a pretext to hold a third memorial assembly this weekend and engage in a large-scale street protest, and we held a meeting for countermeasures because the degree of illegal violence is reaching a dangerous level, including the disruption of traffic by some protesters occupying the roads, the throwing of rocks at police, the damaging of police buses, and attempted arson,” the prosecutors’ office said.

“In the event that it turns into a violent protest, the roads will be closed, and ringleaders, on-site agitators and people engaged in violent acts will be pursued to the end and severely punished,” the office added.

But civic and social groups are objecting to the measures, calling them an oppressive attempt to quiet public opinion regarding the investigation results they expect will be unconvincing. “The prosecutors have openly revealed their intent to control the conclusions of the investigation and even the citizens’ response to those conclusions, all according to the government’s intentions,” said Bae Yeo-jin, a member of Solidarity of Human Rights Groups.

The Committee Against the Brutal Suppression of the Yongsan Demolition Protest also began a series of nationwide one-person protests urging a fair investigation by prosecutors. “The one-person protests will continue in front of 173 police agencies and police stations nationwide, not only in Seoul but also in Gyeonggi Province, Busan and Incheon,” said a representative of the committee.

Meanwhile, the investigative division at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office (headed by Senior Prosecutor Jeong Byeong-du), which is investigating the Yongsan tragedy, announced that it was delaying the release of its final investigation results, which had been scheduled for Friday, and would be releasing them on Monday morning. The office explained the reason for the delay by saying, “Because the investigation into whether private contractors were involved is not yet finished, we will announce everything all at once after finishing that investigation.”

But some inside and outside the prosecutors’ office are wondering if the political determination that announcing the results on Friday ahead of the large-scale gathering on the weekend would be troublesome did not play a part in this decision. It is already known that prosecutors have presented the final conclusion that it is not possible to attribute criminal liability for the fire to the police.

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