▲ Recently released after spending three months in jail for her participation in the Gangjeong naval base protests, peace activist Choi Sung Hee addresses people at the camp on Aug. 17. Photos by Darryl Coote
After three months of imprisonment, artist and anti-naval base protester Choi Sung Hee was released from jail on Aug. 17. She had been arrested on May 19 and charged with interference with business. Choi spoke with The Jeju Weekly at the protesters’ base camp in Gangjeong, Seogwipo City, the naval base construction site, a night after being released.
“I claimed that I was not guilty, but the judge decided that I was guilty so I am planning … an appeal,” she said. Her claim is that her act of lying under a construction truck was just and an act of self defense against the “illegal and law evasive naval base construction.” Choi said she believes the construction of the naval base violates the Republic of South Korea constitution’s democratic principles as well as threatening peace in Northeast Asia.
Choi described the Gangjeong people’s protests in a historical and international context saying their work was crucial “not only for Jeju” but also for continuing peace in the region.
She referred to the time she and others have spent in jail as a result of their actions against the construction of the naval base not as a sacrifice but a victory of the people since it has encouraged others to join her cause.
With eight months of probation starting from her release from jail, she said she now needs to consider how best to participate in the demonstrations. “... not only me but several people are being restricted from being directly involved in the struggle, so we have to make a wise decision to really help the struggle,” she added.
Choi continued that if she were charged again with interference with business she would have to spend the entire eight-month term in jail, instead of just three.
She pointed out that her time in jail had been nothing compared to the experience of the women who have chained themselves to a pallet and a steel office trailer on the access street in Gangjeong. The street leads to Jungdeok, the planned location of the naval base. Choi described these women, one of whom is former Jeju Assemblywoman Oh Ok Man, as “martyrs.”
▲ Politician Oh Ok Man, center, stands with protesters in a rallying cry urging everyone to continue their struggle to prevent the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island. Photos by Darryl Coote
“… by chaining themselves they are risking being arrested [and] being imprisoned. It’s not easy. They may even [get] physically hurt,” she said referring to the possibility of clashes with police, who may use force to remove the protesters if they do not leave when advised.
She said that many of the protesters believe this will occur during Chuseok, the South Korean harvest holiday, which this year lands on Sept. 13.
“[It’s a time when] many people are loosening physiologically, it’s a family gathering, many people want a break. So it’s the weak time … So we are now being conscious,” she said.
▲ Approximately 100 police officers run along the main street of Gangjeong into the entrance of the naval base construction site at the south end of the village. Photos by Darryl Coote
▲ A billboard out front of the naval base construction site entrance displaying an artist’s rendering of what the completed base will look like. Photos by Darryl Coote
▲ The main entrance to the naval base construction site. Only those given permission by the Republic of Korea Navy can enter. Photos by Darryl Coote
▲ One of many protest signs along the main street of Gangjeong village. Throughout the entire village, on back streets and even painted on the road, protest signs and anti-naval base messages in Korean and English can be seen everywhere. Photos by Darryl Coote
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