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Rising tension in Gangjeong[Updated July 29] Police arrive in force as the naval base conflict rages on
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승인 2011.07.19  13:25:27
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▲ Song Kang Ho, who was injured, hospitalized and later jailed while protesting the construction of the base, attended the evening's rally, July 28. Photo by Alpha Newberry
▲ Global Network member and arms control analyst Matthew Hoey was among those at the rally, July 28. Photo by Alpha Newberry

▲ A scene from a July 24 confrontation between protesters and police at Gangjeong, Seogwipo City. Photo by Alpha Newberry
▲ A scene from a July 24 confrontation between protesters and police at Gangjeong, Seogwipo City. Photo by Alpha Newberry

Police bearing riot shields have come to Gangjeong. On July 24, in a further escalation of tension surrounding the construction of the Gangjeong naval base, three groups of police numbering at least a hundred in total stood guard beginning around 4 p.m. at the entrances to Jungdeok. Protesters met them with a car blockade at one entrance and locked arms at another. There was no physical conflict, and by 11:30 p.m. the police left. Since then, police have been posted daily near the entrances and in turn met by protesters, though not in close quarters. Jungdeok is the intended site of the naval base and also home to many of those protesting its construction.

On July 25 protesters were joined by two Korean politicians, Kim Jae Yun, Democratic Party member and Seogwipo’s representative in the National Assembly, and Hyun Ae Ja, member of the Korean Democratic Labor Party. Both held press conferences to express their solidarity. Hyun also joined in, chaining herself to a tree and to other protesters.

These most recent developments come after a visit from the head of Korea’s national police, Cho Hyun Oh, on July 22.

The last weeks have been punctuated by three arrests and the delivery of a written notice to Seogwipo City Mayor Ko Chang Hu indicting him for neglect of duty. In his case, the continued use of the road that accesses Jungdeok from Gangjeong is the point of contention. On Wednesday night, July 18, Ko held a meeting in the small town to hear what its residents had to say about possible closure.

▲ On the proposed site of the base sits the tent where film critic Yang Yoon-Mo lived for three years. Yang, after a 70-day hunger strike in jail, is no longer allowed access to the site. Photo by Alpha Newberry
▲ Photo by Alpha Newberry

Though the national government says it has official control of the road, its administration is the responsibility of Seogwipo City. When asked to close the road, the mayor did not comply, citing that it was still used for farming purposes. Some villagers claim the road, which is too narrow in most places for two cars, is theirs, as they contributed to its upkeep. As of this writing it is still open.

Two weeks ago, on the morning of July 15, four passenger vans of Seogwipo City police came to Gangjeong to arrest three men: village Chief Kang Dong Kyun, activist Song Kang Ho and Ko Kwon Il — all key figures in the movement against naval base construction. The orders came from Chief of Police Song Yang Wa after receiving a warrant from the Jeju District Court. On the same day a directive was issued by the South Korean Navy and Minister of Justice Lee Gui Nam that aims to bar the village chief, along with 71 other individuals and members of five civil service organizations, from entering the land on which the naval base is to be constructed. Kang Dong Kyun has since been released.

Protesters of the base have occupied the land on the shores of Jungdeok for some time, and the latest arrests came not long after the June 20 clash between Kang and Song on one side and Samsung and Daelim workers along with South Korean naval officers on the other. On June 20, Kang and Song attempted to board a Samsung-owned barge. They were violently resisted, and Song was transported unconscious to a local hospital. He later checked out with minor back pain.

Concerning that incident, South Korean Naval Officer Lieutenant Woo said the issue is “complicated and sensitive.” In a phone interview to the Gangjeong Naval Office on July 14, Lt. Woo went on to say that “... protesters were trying to climb on the barge. We tried to block them so it is not illegal behavior.” The lieutenant also said that the construction workers have been unable to build: “We can’t push forward with heavy construction.”

Two arrests preceded the most recent ones. First, prominent film critic Yang Yoon Mo spent 57 days behind bars. Charged with “interference with business,” Yang received a sentence of imprisonment with a suspension of execution of sentence. Artist Choi Sung Hee was arrested on May 19, and her trial is ongoing. Choi is being held without bail, and her defense team, Minbyun Lawyers for a Democratic Society, claim her arrest was illegal. She is charged with 20 separate counts of “interference with business.”

▲ Local protesters coming back to Gangjeong harbor from the dredger. Photo by Alpha Newberry
▲ A village protester gives a bag with food, water, and a camera for village leader Kang Dong Kyung to men aboard the dredger. Photo by Alpha Newberry
▲ A villager anxiously looks on as village leader Kang Dong Kyun has a heated discussion with workers on the dredger. Photo by Alpha Newberry

Jeju National University Law Professor Shin Yong In says protesting in Korea is legal as long as there is no perceived threat of force. “I think the arrest of Sung Hee was illegal because she was arrested on May 19. At that time she didn’t use threat of force, at that time they [Seogwipo police] broke their placards and tent, this is not business — this is not legal. Sung Hee prevented that which was not wrong. Sung Hee is innocent of that case. Her day of arrest she was not interfering with business.”

According to Choi’s defense attorneys, the Seogwipo police illegally destroyed material belonging to the Gangjeong activists. This is the only time Choi’s defense argues she physically intervened, which did not take place on May 19, the day of the arrest. Nine activists are being charged with similar counts of “interference with business.”

Ko Myung Kwon, director of the Seogwipo Police Criminal Investigation Department, would not confirm the names of those recently arrested nor the plaintiff’s name but said that the complaint is “related to the interference of naval base construction.” Ko said that the issue of bail will be decided in court.

Meanwhile, the 72 activists and the civil service organizations were given seven days from July 15 to leave the shores of Jungdeok and take with them their facilities, which include tents and other equipment. According to the directive, if they did not comply, they would be fined 5 million won (approximately US $4,500) for each violation. However, the directive has yet to be given full legal force by the Seogwipo City government as it is under judicial review.

According to KEPCO Seogwipo City Senior Manager Lee Sung-Hyun, the navy, as the owner of electrical infrastructure around Jungdeok, also requested that KEPCO (the Korea Electric Power Corporation) shut off electricity to the site. As of this writing it still has power.

Governor Woo Keun Min has not been without comment. On a July 1 interview with Headline Jeju he said, “I think this is the time for Gangjeong village residents, the navy, the government and Jeju Island to make a rational decision together in order to map out specific construction plans of naval base.” The governor also restated that he would settle the related conflicts based on the principle of connecting national security to future Jeju development and protecting Gangjeong residents before everything else.

Other civil action is pending. Since Jungdeok is located in an “absolute preservation area,” protesters say that construction is not legal at all. Jeju National University Law Professor Shin Yong In says the base resisters are awaiting the Supreme Court ruling on the litigation appeal in the “Change of Disposition on Absolute Preservation Area” submitted by the citizens of Gangjeong.

The Jeju District Court earlier dismissed the case in question on the grounds that “there is no standing of citizens.” Shin said the court did not judge the illegality in the change of disposition on an absolute preservation area. The ruling is expected within the next year. If a Supreme Court ruling is in favor of the litigation then the Navy will be forced to build elsewhere. If built, the 97.5 billion won ($86 million) naval base, is proposed to be the home of 20 Aegis destroyer warships.

The situation has garnered some international attention, inciting MacGregor Eddy of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space to visit Choi Sung Hee in jail. US-based arms control analyst Matthew Hoey, also of the Global Network, has also become part of the movement to stop the building of the base.

“Scholars from Universities such as Harvard, MIT, Wentworth, Suffolk, CCNY and others have joined together to sign this statement supporting the No Base Campaign. Noam Chomsky, Richard Levins and George Katsiaficas are among them,” he wrote on Facebook. “They are not alone. Academics from around the world are increasingly joining the activists in Gangjeong Village.”

At the end of the month Hoey and Foreign Policy in Focus writer Christine Ahn will hold a press conference and present a petition meant for President Lee Myung Bak. Well-known feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem has signed that petition and written a letter of solidarity with the people of Gangjeong.

Protesters are also using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, starting a group entitled “Save Prof. Yang and Sung Hee Choi of Jeju Island.” They also have a Web site: For Twitter updates from protesters and journalists alike, look for #gangjung.

Hearings for Choi Sung Hee, Song Kang Ho, and Ko Kwon Il are scheduled for the coming weeks.

Eunhee Jang, Yoo Jin Olivia Lee, Eunhye Ko, and Kim Soo Yang contributed interpretation and translation.

▲ These rocks are part of the environment Gangjeong villagers want to preserve. Samsung's dredger is pictured in the background. Photo by Alpha Newberry
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Gangjeong's protesters have only small fishing vessels. Here, a comes back from delivering food, water, and a camera to village leader Kang Dong Kyun on the dredger. Photo by Alpha Newberry
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