Scuffles broke out in the South Korean city of Daegu on Saturday as local officials led by the mayor clashed with police during a protest against an LGBTQ festival.
Opponents including Christian organizations had applied for a provisional injunction against the Daegu Queer Culture Festival, which had received police permission to take place.
They were backed by Mayor Hong Joon-pyo, who claimed earlier this month that the event could “instill the wrong sexual culture in teenagers.”
The injunction was rejected by the court, and the parade – an annual event first held in 2009 – was allowed to continue, prompting Hong and other critics to argue instead that it posed too much of a traffic disruption. Police had warned last week that the area would see heavy congestion due to the parade, and that it would deploy personnel to help manage the traffic.
Tensions came to a head on Saturday when local government officials gathered to protest at the festival site. A video posted by the event organizers shows festival vehicles stuck on the road, unable to enter due to the protesters.
Photos show large numbers of police arriving to disperse the protesters, pushing through the crowd with shields and interlocking arms to form a human barrier.
South Korean news agency Yonhap estimated that about 500 protesters and 1,500 police officers were at the scene. The festival ultimately continued, with the parade taking place as planned.
Afterward, Hong lambasted the police on social media, accusing them of “injuring our public officials for the sake of the queer festival.” He also said that he would hold the police chief accountable, saying the festival had been held “illegally” because the city government had not given permission for organizers to occupy the road.
In a scathing response, police said the festival was a “legal assembly” with the right to use public roads, since the court had rejected all injunction requests by the opposition. It pointed out that the festival had been safely held without incident for the past 14 years, that police were simply carrying out their duty of providing protection, and urged the mayor to “stop rambling.”
Under South Korean law, organizers of assemblies and demonstrations only need to submit details to local police, such as the estimated number of attendees, to obtain permission. Police may ban an event if it causes “serious inconvenience to traffic” – but this was challenged in 2015 when a Seoul court overturned a police ban on a pride parade, ruling that it should only be banned if there is a “clear direct threat” to public peace and safety.
The Daegu police appeared to point to this case in their statement on Saturday, which referred to “court precedents” on legal assemblies.
Hong, the Daegu mayor, has previously made headlines for anti-LGBTQ statements, such as claiming that gay men would weaken the South Korean military, according to local media.
Homophobia is rife in South Korea, where there is no comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ people. South Korea does not legally recognize same-sex marriage, and is less accepting of gay couples compared to nearby democracies like Japan and Taiwan.
Every year, opponents and religious groups often show up outside the country’s biggest pride festival, the Seoul Queer Culture Festival, to blast anti-LGBTQ slogans through loudspeakers.
For years, the festival has been held in a grassy square in Seoul’s city center – but this year the city government rejected its application to use the venue, instead granting permission for a Christian youth concert, which festival organizers criticized as discriminatory.
The festival is set to go ahead on July 1 in Seoul’s busy Euljiro area instead.