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COVID-19: Global leaders urge South Korean government, UN to halt religious oppression

As the spread of Coronavirus continues to increase around the world, voices from the international community are rising to stop religious oppression occurring...

Former President of Guyana, Donald Ramotar

As the spread of Coronavirus continues to increase around the world, voices from the international community are rising to stop religious oppression occurring in South Korea, known as an exemplary case for COVID-19 quarantine.

On August 17, 2020, the Coalition of Caribbean Leaders for Peace (CCLP) consisting of former and current leaders in the Caribbean, including the former president of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), sent a joint letter to South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

In the letter, they said the governments, even in response to the urgency of the pandemic, must take responsibility for the protection of human rights, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. They expressed concern about ongoing oppression against Shincheonji Church, a South Korea-based Christian denomination that suffered from an unexpected mass infection at the beginning of the year.

Ahead of this joint letter, 11 NGOs, including the European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP-LC), submitted the “annual report for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” regarding the inappropriately targeted discrimination against Shincheonji Church to the UN Secretary-General.

The annual report, entitled: “Scapegoating Members of Shincheonji for COVID-19 in the Republic of Korea,” stated that COVID-19 was introduced to South Korea from China, and according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus was already prevalent in the city of Daegu before the confirmation of (Shincheonji) the Patient 31 (in Daegu). That the government’s refusal to close the border to China contributed heavily to the outbreak and as such, in the face of growing public discontent, the government did not impose a travel restriction on China, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae ordered the prosecution to investigate Shincheonji.

In the letter, Vice Minister of Health was reported to have confirmed that the list of private identification information gathered was not much different than that collected and checked by government. It added that prosecutors have arrested the officials of Shincheonji on the grounds that the list of members submitted by Shincheonji was not complete.

By referring to the report “Factsheet on the global response to COVID-19 and the impact on religious practice and religious freedom” by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the joint letter tasked South Korea to provide a vivid example of how public health emergencies could increase the risk to marginalised religious groups.

They pointed out that the South Korean government’s silence about the current situation would set a dangerous global precedent for allowing similar persecution, violence and harassment against other religious minorities and strongly urged the Korean government to “step forward to find an end to this discrimination.”