By Iftikhar Gilani

GWANGJU: An international network meeting of civil rights activists, journalists and non-governmental organisations in this South Korean city have called on the Indian government to revoke the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and reject all forms of violence.

The meeting expressed the fears that laws to fight terrorism were creating more terrorists rather than curbing the menace.

Assembled there to commemorate May 18, 1980 Korean uprising against military dictatorship, the meeting also called for an Asian solidarity to protect democracies and human rights midst the war clouds hovering over the region.

Over past few years, the city of Gwangju, 500 kilometres south of Seoul, has been witnessing the biggest annual event of social moment activists, outside the World Social Forum. The launch statement, released at the end of the deliberations, recognised threats and setbacks to democracies in Asia, which it said was threatening the region.

The participants from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and other countries drew attention to the state and non-state repression against human rights defenders and media. “The demand to protect democracies under threat is strongly increasing among people in Asian societies. Aspirations for Asian solidarity action are fully matured now amongst civil society actors in Korea specifically and in Asian in general,” said the statement.

The South Korean government and the May 18 Foundation have been hosting democratic movements for the last 11 years to attend the carnival that enlivens the memories of the brutally crushed uprising. The uprising paved the way for the democratisation of South Korea seven years later and also showed path of democracy to East European countries and Philippines as well.

Local journalists believe that Gwangju is a testimony to preserve democracy. “We are indebted to the inhabitants of this city. We inherited the fruits of democracy because of their sacrifices,” says a journalist Yi Jung.

The forum has so far awarded the prestigious $50,000 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights to two Indians – Irom Sharmila of Manipur, for her seven-year-long fast against the AFSPA and Lenin Raghuvanshi of Utter Pradesh (UP), for fighting child, bonded labour and discrimination against untouchables.

Koreans remember the May 18 uprising every year to uphold democracy and human rights. Three decades ago, civilians and students in Gwangju, a city of 1.4 million marched through the streets, fuelled by anger at military abuses of power.

Foundation Chairman Honggil Rhee believes there was need of an Asian solidarity and a new mantra for human rights.

He saw tanks mowing down young people gathered at the city centre. Helicopters firing at unarmed civilians. Dead bodies being stashed in garbage trucks and taken for mass burial. “They thought they could crush the movement for democracy and set an example. It backfired because of the people’s resilience. We learnt many things from the rising. We have to constantly fight to get and retain democracy. These were the highest form of sacrifices and we just can’t afford to forget that,” he said.