Amnesty International has received reports of police using excessive force against demonstrators protesting against US beef imports in South Korea. More than 300 people were arrested during candlelight vigils held on 31 May and 1 June.
Police used fire extinguishers and water cannons fired at close range against largely peaceful demonstrators, causing serious injuries such as blindness, broken bones and concussions.
Amnesty International has received hundreds of reports of riot police rounding people up and arbitrarily arresting all those who happened to get caught in the process, including peaceful protesters, bystanders and passers-by. Several detainees reported police violence during and after their arrest.
Among those beaten and arrested was a 27-year-old man. Police officers kicked him and beat him with clubs and shields.
When the Amnesty International South Korean section director, Kim Hee-jin, visited him at the Hyehwa Police Station on 2 June, his face was swollen and he had cuts and scratches on his face and arm. He was suffering head and chest pains from the beatings. Although injured and in visible pain, the police did not provide him with any medical attention during his 48-hour arrest.
Amnesty International has called on the South Korean authorities to immediately investigate reports of excessive force.
"The police's resort to violence has angered a lot of peaceful protesters and increased the possibility of violence," said Norma Kang Muico, Amnesty International's Korea researcher. "The government should use the anniversary of the 1987 protests as an occasion to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and rule of law."
The organization also called on the authorities to ensure people's safety at future protests. There are fears of more violence and arrests with the imminent 10 June rally marking the anniversary of the 1987 democratic uprising that led to free elections and political reforms.
Since early May, tens of thousands of protesters have demonstrated against the renewal of US beef imports over fears of BSE or mad cow disease.