10/06/2016 01:28 EDT | Updated 10/06/2016 01:28 EDT

The Deterioration Of Democracy In East Asia Threatens Human Rights

Lee Jae Won / Reuters
People hold a large banner, which reads,"Democracy", during a candle-light demonstration demanding an apology from South Korean President Park Geun-Hye to the nation, and calling for the resignation of National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Nam Jae-joon in central Seoul August 10, 2013. According to local media reports, the spy agency's former chief Won Sei-hoon, who served under the regime of former President Lee Myung-Bak, was indicted on June 14, 2013 on charges of interfering in last December's presidential election in favour of Park Geun-hye, in violation of the country's election law. Park said on July 8, 2013 that the spy agency needs to set up measures to reform itself, local media reported. Police said 16,000 people attended the rally, while local media reported that 50,000 people gathered to protest on Saturday. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

When the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang was visiting Ottawa, a large privacy wall was erected in front of The Westin Ottawa hotel. It was later revealed that the Chinese delegation had requested the hotel to erect the wall so that Mr. Li would not suffer the displeasure of seeing the protesters outside the hotel.

What is now dubbed as "The Great Wall of Westin" is a shame to us all because it has revealed Canada's lack of awareness on the sufferings of people under undemocratic regimes in East Asia. People in China and even "democratic" countries like South Korea continue to suffer from deteriorating human rights conditions and undemocratic practices.

Although China under Deng Xiaoping had opened its doors to the global market, the Chinese people were not allowed to have the freedom that we take for granted. The infamous Tiananmen incident occurred because Deng ordered the military to end the protest by any means necessary. The Chinese authority's inhumane treatment towards Falun Gong and the dissidents are well-known throughout the world.

But of all the East Asian countries, South Korea has suffered one of the worst deterioration in human rights and democracy in recent years. Once a bastion of democracy in East Asia, which was successfully restored after almost 40 years of authoritarian rule, it has now become the deathbed for democracy.


Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Image from

Although it is not widely known in the West, the fall of South Korean democracy is old news. Since 2011, Freedom House has rated the freedom of the press in South Korea as only being "partly free." Government critics and social activists are often harassed by ultraconservative activists and "Internet trolls."

The incumbent South Korean President Park Geun-hye, is the daughter of South Korean strongman dictator Park Jung-hee, who ruled South Korea between 1963 and 1979. Her presidency was nothing close to being democratic from the beginning. Numbers of sources had suggested that the South Korean military and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) manipulated public opinion on web and the number of votes for Park during the presidential election in 2012.

In 2012, South Korean democracy was taken off its life support. The South Korean Constitutional Court disbanded a pro-labor opposition party by ruling its existence as "unconditional" and for being "pro- North." It was an incident that sent a shock throughout the nation. A political party with elected members in the National Assembly was dissolved in broad daylight by the judges loyal to Park.

We have to pay close attention to the deteriorating human rights condition in East Asia.

Many South Koreans still care for democracy. But they face insurmountable challenges in countering the conglomerate of the government, the ultraconservative media, and Park's loyal supporters.

Mr. Baek Nam-gi is the most recent victim of the Park administration. A lifelong democracy activist and the advocate of farmers' rights in South Korea passed away on September 25th. In November 2015, he suffered a serious cerebral hemorrhage after the police water cannon blasted him to the ground. At the time he was participating in a major pro-democracy demonstration in Seoul.

The New York Times have confirmed that whoever was operating the water cannon had deliberately targeted Mr. Baek's head and blasted him with the cannon, operating at maximum output. Neither the South Korean government nor the police have taken responsibility for Mr. Baek's death.

In addition to "The Great Wall of Westin," the tragedy of Mr. Baek should be taken as a warning that the deterioration of democracy and human rights in East Asia may reach the breaking point in near future. We have to pay close attention to the deteriorating human rights condition in East Asia.

In recent years, we have seen crisis erupting in many places around the world that have suffered under the undemocratic regime. And nothing says East Asia is an exception to the trend.

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