KOREA, august 14 2020 (TATOLI)-During this time of widespread anxiety because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Korean government is exercising the oppression of religion, human rights, and peace against the religious group ‘Shincheonji Church of Jesus’ (hereafter Shincheonji). As a result, voices of warning are being heard worldwide.

When the Korean citizens became dissatisfied with the government’s failure to responsibly respond to the initial prevention of COVID-19, the government began to point at Shincheonji in the region of Daegu, where a massive outbreak occurred, as the source of its spread.

The Korean government, politicians, and the Christian Council of Korea have joined hands to participate in the “Shincheonji Witch Hunting” media play.

From February, which was during the worst of COVID-19, to the election of the National Assembly in April, the South Korea government banned all social gatherings and kept people inside homes. During this time, distorted and false news was widely spread every day through the media that the COVID-19 virus spread was due to Shincheonji.

As a result, 200,000 members of Shincheonji in South Korea suffered, of which 7,500 were found to have been victims of serious abuse of human rights. It has been reported that Shincheonji members have experienced assault, violence, divorce, coercive conversion, persecution at work due to personal information leakage, forced resignation, refusal of medical treatment, and refusal of facilities used by the sole reason of being members of Shincheonji.  It even led to the death of 2 women. The damage to the women in Shincheonji, a blind spot in human rights, is even worse.

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently stated that the commission is “concerned by reports that Shincheonji church members are being blamed for the spread of the virus” and urged that, “the South Korean government cease to scapegoat and condemn a particular group and to respect religious freedom in regards to the COVID-19 situation.”

In addition to this, COVID-19 experts advised to be wary of religious aversion and fear, however, the South Korea government said that the widespread of COVID-19 is due to Shincheonji.

All Shincheonji facilities were forcibly closed under the charge of violation against the prevention of infectious diseases. Five officials were arrested under the pretense of obstruction of justice. Also, taking advantage of the fact that the Chairman of Shincheonji is the same as the Chairman of “Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light” (HWPL), an international peace group, the government has repeatedly oppressed peace by canceling the registration of HWPL.

Despite these oppressions, about 4,000 confirmed and cured patients of COVID-19 among the members of Shinchonji promised to donate free plasma for the development of a vaccine. From July 13th to 17th, 500 members have completed their donations.

Article 20, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea states that all citizens have freedom of religion. It also states that religion and politics are separate. In addition, the “guarantee of fundamental human rights’ (Article 10 of the Constitution) and ‘prohibition of discrimination in all areas of sex, religion, politics, economic, social and cultural life’ (Article 11 of the Constitution) are specified.

However, the news oppression of religion, human rights, and peace against Shincheonji that is happening, despite what is written in the constitution, has the world’s religious, humanitarian, political and social figures and NGOs around the world state that, “the oppression of peace, religion, and human rights against them must stop immediately.” And, “we must stop wrong policies and stop trampling on the human rights of the people.” They warned that the government’s exclusivism could make Korea dangerous.

 In addition, critics continue to criticize that the government, which must provide objective information in the event of a crisis and show a neutral attitude to minimize social confusion, show political intentions by being religiously bias and blaming everything onto one organization for the spread of the virus.

 NGOs Take Actions

Named “Coronavirus and Shincheonji: Stopping the Witch Hunt,” European NGOs on February 28 issued a joint statement that the current COVID-19 in South Korea has become the target of hatred and human rights crisis since the 31st confirmed case from a member of Shincheonji.

In the statement it said, “Some Korean politicians scapegoated Shincheonji for the virus epidemic, perhaps to dodge accusations against their own mishandling of the crisis,” and “the lists of Shincheonji members supplied to the authorities have been partially leaked, and Shincheonji devotees have been publicly insulted and beaten, and some have been fired from their jobs.”

The participating NGOs include CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), ORLIR (International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees), FOB (European Federation for Freedom of Belief), CAP-LC (Co-ordination of Associations and Persons for Freedom of Conscience), EIFRF (European Inter-religious Forum for Religious Freedom), FOREF (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe), LIREC (Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion, and Conscience), HRWF (Human Rights Without Frontiers), Soteria International.

Cases of Human Rights Violations in South Korea

 Some government agencies in South Korea are taking the lead in identifying if their officials are Shincheonji members. The Ministry of Justice instructed a nationwide investigation of government employees in correctional facilities to self-report whether they or their family are Shincheonji members.

On February 26th, a female Shincheonji member from Ulsan fell to her death from domestic violence due to her religion. The husband admitted that he assaulted the wife for months on religious issues and, on the day of the accident, it has been reported she was again abused by her husband as he was forcing her to stop her walk of faith. On March 10th, another death of a Shincheonji member was reported at Jung-eup in North Jeolla province. As the media was flooded with false news of Shincheonii because of COVID-19, the increased persecution from her husband had another woman fall to her death from her apartment.

As for the 31st confirmation case from the first Shincheonji member with the virus, fake news reports that she disturbed hospital work by fighting with nurses spread through online platforms with her personal information leaked. The Daegu Regional Police Department said that the news of interruptions was not true.

Shincheonji church stated that human rights violation issues concerning the virus exceeded 7,500 cases and is continuing to increase.

 

TATOLI

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