When the stark realities of COVID-19 made themselves evident to the international community, governments around the world began to realize how woefully underprepared they were to hand a pandemic of this scale. Our systems failed nearly every stress test imaginable.
COVID-19 Failures in South Korea
In an attempt to shield themselves from fair criticisms, some in South Korea have enacted violence and human rights abuses against minority religious groups like the Shincheonji. South Korea has been applauded by the international community for its efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Yet for all of the nation’s seemingly commendable efforts, powerful forces within society and the religious establishment have continually undermined the most basic human rights under the false premise of protecting its citizens from coronavirus. Terrible human rights abuses and religious persecution against Shincheonji continue occurring under what can accurately be described as a targeted campaign based on falsehoods. Critics found allies in the Christian Council of Korea (CCK), which has long sought to eliminate Shincheonji over theological differences.
Is Shincheonji at Fault for COVID-19?
Some blame Shincheonji for spreading the virus throughout South Korea, but the basic facts don’t support this claim. South Korean officials allowed unrestricted travel to and from China, even after it became common knowledge that COVID was a serious threat to public health. Thirty-one confirmed cases were documented before a congregant from Daegu contracted the virus.
The government requested the names and personal details of over 300,000 congregation members in their efforts to track known cases. Understandably, the leadership of Shincheonji was apprehensive over privacy concerns for its congregants. People have accused Shincheonji of hiding away this information, but coordinating the release of this amount of information, and doing so without a guarantee of privacy protections has proven challenging. The targeted abuse has become so intense that a congregant even committed suicide.
Did Shincheonji Lie to the Government?
What is all the more confounding is that Shincheonji’s leaders and its members have complied with the South Korean government’s orders. The Church made every effort to contain the spread of the virus. They have not held services or gatherings in person since February, even as other churches continued to meet in person without consequence.
4,000 Shincheonji congregants also offered to donate blood plasma in a good faith effort to assist with the Korean CDC’s attempts to produce a vaccine.
Furthermore, society and the churches of the CCK accuse Shincheonji of being a cult even as the CCK engages in tactics that are questionable at best. It is a matter of record that the CCK practices a type of coercive reeducation program wherein Shincheonji members are kidnapped, detained against their will and forcibly reeducated. Should these efforts fail, the CCK will torture and isolate their hostages.
In December 2017, a Shincheonji congregant named Gu Ji-in suffocated and died during the coercive conversion process. To date, the CCK pastors responsible for this crime were never held accountable. Such tactics are indicative of cult like behavior and constitute—by any definition of the term—flagrant human rights abuses, but strategic alliances with government officials have shielded the CCK from legal consequences.
Charges of Murder Against Lee Man Hee
Despite the government’s admission that Shincheonji’s nonagenarian leader poses no flight risk, a warrant for his arrest was issued on August 1, 2020. He is expected to remain in custody indefinitely until the outcome of his case is determined. This is the kind of treatment more appropriate for terrorists and other heinous criminals who pose a legitimate threat to the public, not the pastor of a church that complied with the government’s orders, a church that was not responsible for bringing coronavirus into the nation.
What’s Happening to the World?
The world is facing fatigue from the innumerable problems we’ve been confronted with: coronavirus, political unrest in the US in an election year, economic troubles, and flagrant abuses of minority rights around the world (the Muslim Uighurs in China, and the Sikhs, Muslims and Christians of India come to mind). The dominos are falling at once, and it can be too much for our fragile selves to bear. Nevertheless, the international community cannot cast a blind eye towards blatant injustice. If we remain indifferent towards the persecution of vulnerable minority groups, then we are also complicit in the violation of human rights.