Coronavirus Outbreak: NGOs Warn Against Stigmatisation Of Shincheonji Church Members In South Korea

NEWS, Society

Some nine international non-governmental organisations have condemned human rights violations against a South Korean religious organisation, Shincheonji Church, as the Korean society and media have blamed the Church members for the spread of the coronavirus, Covid-19, in the country.

This followed increasing virus outbreaks from members of the Church located in Daegu, South Korea.

Some South Korean local governments have attributed the responsibility of the virus to the Church, with Korean media reports blaming Shincheonji Church for Coronavirus spread, without information fact-checking.

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

A statement by the organisations read: “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), and Soteria International.

Meanwhile, the 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 Coronavirus” and urges “the South Korean government to condemn scapegoating and to respect religious freedom as it responds to the outbreak.”

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 families are Shincheonji members.

On February 27, Jeonbuk Provincial Government sent citizens in the province text messages with the title of “Emergency Disaster Text”, saying, “The government is calling on every Shincheonji member to identify the Coronavirus symptom. We ask for cooperation. If anyone knows Shincheonji members around, please call us.”

Family violence against Shincheonji members has also been reported. On February 26, a female Shincheonji member from Ulsan fell down from her apartment after she reported to the police that she had been exposed to violence from her husband. But the husband admitted that he assaulted the wife for months based on religious issues. The police are investigating the cause of death.

As for the 31st confirmed case from the first Shincheonji member with the virus, unconfirmed news reports claimed that she disturbed the hospital work by fighting with nurses. The media report was spread through online platforms with her personal information leaked. The Daegu Regional Police Department said that the business interruptions were, however, not true.

Shincheonji church stated that human rights violation issues in relation to the Coronavirus exceeded 7,000 cases.

Comments from International Religious Leaders

“We expect Korea to be a heaven of peace and tolerance and acceptance of others as it is. We deplore very strongly to hear that certain groups of people are persecuted because of their faith. I hope that Korea would adjust and ratify this infringement of human rights. We deliver our full solidarity with all the religious groups under discrimination,” said H.E. Elias Chacour, Founder of Mar Elias Educational Institutions and former Archbishop of Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Israel.

“I am concerned by the stand taken by certain church leaders in South Korea against the leader of Shincheonji Church of Jesus. The (Shincheonji) church leader has been discriminated against, persecuted and criticised since he founded his church due to its popularity in working for harmony among all religions in the world. Please do not use Coronavirus infection in Korea as a means to justify your discrimination against any individual or group,” said Fr. Peter Parlad Kumar, Priest of Anglican Archdiocese of Polynesia.

“Although it’s something concerning the world, it is not on the basis of any religion. It is a human calamity and we should all together fight this with our own ability. And in such crisis, the whole world is also trying to find out the solution and medicine. It does not have any link with any religion, any church or any group. It’s just a natural process that happened to the industry. Let us take it as a natural calamity, not by any human being or any organization,” added Amir Aziz, Imam of Ahmadiyya-Moschee of Wilmersdorf in Germany.

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