South Korea eviction deaths spark protests
Published Feb 5, 2009 7:39 PM
A police attack Jan. 20 on tenants resisting eviction in Seoul, South Korea,
led to the death of six people. In response to this atrocity, thousands marched
on both Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 demanding that the police chief be fired for this
unwarranted use of force to evict people from their homes.
Five people blocking an eviction died
in this blaze.
Disputes involving evictions have become everyday occurrences in Seoul. The
struggle is between real estate developers and apartment dwellers whose desire
to stay in their homes gets in the way of profiteering. The rightist government
now in power in South Korea has lined up with the developers, responding to
every legitimate protest with massive use of police. During the weekend
demonstrations, 10,000 police surrounded the crowds.
On Jan. 20, about 50 people had tried sitting in to keep from being evicted.
Some 1,500 police were called in to remove them. Within 24 hours of the
beginning of the protest, the government sent the equivalent of riot police or
a SWAT team to storm the four-story building.
As the police charged in, a fire broke out. The police took no safety measures
but proceeded with the assault. As a result, five tenants and one police
officer died in the fire. (Sarabang Group for Human Rights)
Police claim the protesters threw Molotov cocktails. Progressive groups are
demanding that civil organizations be guaranteed participation in the
investigation process with the aim of: securing a fair and thorough
investigation, punishing those responsible for the incident, reviewing current
redevelopment projects that do not guarantee the tenants’ right to
housing, and guaranteeing the right to housing as a human right.
The South Korean government has agreed to international human rights rules that
protect the right to existing housing if no new housing has been provided.
According to the demonstrators, these laws have been violated when the
developers evicted tenants under government auspices. These tenants have the
right to stay in the old housing if new housing offered them is inadequate, far
away from the old area, or both. Tenants complained that the developers
harassed them instead of negotiating with them.
Church organizations have joined the protest since the deaths, demanding that
forced redevelopment projects be stopped. “The police, who are supposed
to protect the socially weak, have violently suppressed them by mobilizing SWAT
team and water cannons,” said a statement issued by the Catholic Urban
Poor Pastoral Committee of the Seoul Archdiocese on Jan. 22. (Union of Catholic
The church committee demanded that any redevelopment projects undertaken
without the agreement of existing tenants be stopped. It also demanded that the
Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency commissioner, who approved the use of the SWAT
team, be punished.
The National Council of Churches in Korea also issued a statement expressing
deep regret about the tragic deaths: “The tragic affair happened because
of the government’s neo-liberal policy, which has deepened the gap
between the rich and the poor, and the police’s excessive loyalty to the
Regular police in South Korea are youthful conscripts like the army. SWAT
teams, on the other hand, are career riot police trained in repression.
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