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Berlin group honors Korea for anti-Park rallies

Foundation awarded human rights prize for peaceful democracy
Oct 17,2017
The oldest political foundation in Germany, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), decided to award its annual human rights award to the 10 million Koreans who rallied in the streets of central Seoul for months to demand that then-President Park Geun-hye step down for abuse of power.

“For the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a lively democracy is unimaginable without the full enjoyment of universally guaranteed human rights by all,” said Sven Schwersensky, the representative of the FES Korea office, at a press conference in central Seoul on Monday.

“This implies that the peaceful exercise of democratic participation, and in particular, the civic right of peaceful assembly, are the essential components of democracy.”

“In our view the people’s candlelight demonstrations have given the whole world evidence of this important fact,” he said. “The rallies of the ‘Organizing Committee for People’s Candlelight Demonstrations’ has been the most ardent promoter of peaceful protest and non-violent demonstrations. Therefore, they will receive the prize in the name of all those who for so many weeks exercised their right of peaceful assembly and rejuvenated democracy in Korea.”

The FES Human Rights Award, awarded annually to organizations or individuals since 1994, has never been awarded to a group of citizens of a country, or to any Korean organization or individual. The FES was established in 1925. Friedrich Ebert was Germany’s first democratically elected president, who served in office from 1919 to 1925.

“We rejoice over the recognition from the international community of the efforts of the people,” said Park Seok-woon, co-chair of the Korea Alliance of Progressive Movements. “The award carries significant meaning for all of us who participated in the candlelight rallies to secure peace and democracy in this country.”

The official ceremony for the prize will take place in Berlin on Dec. 5. FES Chairperson Kurt Beck will present the prize of 20,000 euros ($23,577) to a representative of the Organizing Committee for People’s Candlelight Demonstrations.

“We will ask the participants of the rallies for their ideas on how to best use the prize,” said a member of the committee.

The committee is an association of some 1,500 civic groups in Korea that organized weekly candlelight vigils from October to March, calling for former President Park to step down over her corruption scandal. Some 10 million are reported to have partaken in the rallies in central Seoul.

Park, who took office in February 2013, was impeached and removed from office in March for allowing her friend to interfere in state affairs for private gains.

The committee intends to host on Oct. 28 a commemorative candlelight vigil to remember the first rally at the Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Oct. 29, 2016.

BY HONG SANG-JI, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]