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Human rights bodies call on South Korea to stop alleged oppression of minor religion

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Lee Man-hee

A week after a South Korean sect leader, Lee Man-hee of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, was arrested for obstructing COVID-19 investigation, 387 international leaders, including human rights bodies, NGOs and religious communities have called on South Korea to stop the suppression of the minor religion’s group, Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

South Korean authorities arrested the founder of the sect at the centre of the nation’s largest outbreak of COVID-19 infections for allegedly hiding crucial information from contact-tracers. Lee Man-hee is the head of the church, which is linked to more than 5,200 coronavirus infections, about 36 per cent of South Korea’s total cases.

Prosecutors allege the 89-year-old conspired with other sect leaders to withhold information from authorities during the peak of the outbreak among his over 200,000 followers.

After the outbreak, a district court investigating suspicion of intentional spread of COVID-19 ordered arrest of six church authorities. Seoul city government also canceled a permit for a foundation of HWPL, an international peace organization that Lee established.

In United Kingdom, chairman of International Human Rights Committee, Iftikhar Ayaz, said: “The brutal persecution of members of the Shincheonji church in Korea and the inhumane denial of unregistering their corporation is a horrible negligence of state responsibility, which must treat all citizens equally without any discrimination whatsoever.”

Franklin Hoet Linares from Venezuela, Former President and Honorary Life President of the World Jurist Association, stated: “If the comments that are being broadly spread are true, I would not hesitate to describe it as national and human shame, in addition to turning such nefarious attacks into discrimination against the freedom of religion. We do not understand why, in a country where freedom of religion is enshrined, the government can allow the Korean Consti tution to be violated, whereas it clearly states in Article 20, Clauses 1 and 2 ‘All citizens will enjoy freedom of religion’ and ‘religion and state will be separated.’

Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), said the recent attack on Shincheonji can be viewed as an attempt by the fundamentalist Protestant groups in South Korea to weaken and destroy the competitor in the religious market.

Up to date, 512 members of the Shinchonji Daegu Church donated their blood plasma for development a new treatment for COVID 19. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to produce corona-related drugs with plasma donated by members of the Shinchonji Daegu Church and conduct clinical tests from this September.

A church official said: “The members recovered from COVID-19 donate their blood plasma as reward for treatment offered by government. We want to support the development of a vaccine.”


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