Seoul: A UN envoy on Friday warned of a gradual erosion of the freedom of assembly in South Korea, and cited North Korea as an extreme example of what happens when such tendencies go unchecked.
Wrapping up a week-long visit, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai praised South Korea`s successful transition from military rule to democracy, but also highlighted signs that the country was moving backwards.
"I sense a trend of gradual regression on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association - not a dramatic shutdown of these rights, but a slow, creeping inclination to degrade them," Kiai said.
"I find that space for exercising the right to peaceful assembly has been shrinking over the past few years," he added.
In particular, he noted cases where government officials had restricted protests by citing the inconvenience they caused or by raising the spectre of the security threat posed by North Korea.
And he expressed concern over police tactics used against demonstrators during rallies.
Last November, more than 60,000 people took to the streets of Seoul to protest the government`s push for an unpopular labour reform plan and a controversial scheme to impose state-issued history textbooks in schools.
That protest -- the largest South Korea has seen in nearly a decade -- erupted into violent clashes between demonstrators and police using water cannons and pepper spray.
President Park Geun-hye condemned the rally as an effort to "deny the rule of law," urging strong measures against violent protesters.
But Kiai insisted that gatherings and demonstrations served a critical social role.
"They allow underrepresented groups to amplify their voices," he told a press conference in Seoul.
"Consider the alternatives. DPRK is a glaring example to avoid," he said, using the official acronym for North Korea.