International leaders, institutions condemn arrest of Shincheonji church leaders

Shincheonji church

Our Reporter

International leaders, including human rights authorities and Non Governmental Organisations(NGOs) have criticised the arrest of six Shincheonji church authorities in South Korea on charges of hiding crucial information from contact-tracers and other offences after the COVID-19 infections spiked in late February.
Among the arrested leaders is the church’s founder and President of Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), Lee Man Hee, 89.

Former President and Honorary Life President of the World Jurist Association, Franklin Hoet Linares said: “We strongly condemn the harassment against Mr. Hee Lee and kindly request the Government of Korea to order the review of Government agencies or officials acting against freedoms and practices established in Article 21, Chapter II of the Korean Constitution.

“We do not understand why, in a a country where freedom of religion is enshrined, the Government can allow the Korean Constitution to be violated, whereas it clearly states in Article 20, Clauses 1 and 2, ‘All citizens will enjoy the freedom of religion’ and ‘religion and state will be separated’,” the Senior Partner of Hoet Pelaez Castillo & Duque lamented.

The arrests in early August were the biggest clampdown on the church’s activities since the spike of the infections in late February.

“The Shincheonji church provided the personal information of its members (including the members living abroad, outside the region of South Korea) to the government even after they had shut down all of the facilities after a member was confirmed with COVID-19,” officials of the church insisted.

The HPWL believed its license was withdrawn because it had the same head as the Shincheonji church.

Members of HWPL, find the situation “frustrating, unfair and unjust” while pleading for global support and cooperation to salvage the situation.

In the United Kingdom, Chairman of International Human Rights Committee, Iftikhar Ayaz considered reactions toward the church to be “brutal persecution of the members”.

The committee head also described the Korean government denial of unregistering the HPWL as “inhumane” while going further to term the act “horrible negligence of State Responsibility must treat all citizens equally”.

In his reaction, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), Willy Fautre views the backlash on the church “as an attempt by the fundamentalist Protestant groups to weaken and destroy their strong competitor in the religious market”.

Recently, 12 European civil society organizations co-signed a document “Scapegoating members of Shincheonji for COVID-19 in the Republic of Korea” submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion.

In the report, it was stated that “the virus cannot be an excuse to violate human rights and religious liberty of many believers” calling for an end to “intolerance violence and discrimination against the members”.

A statement from the church explains that 512 members of the church have donated their blood plasma in the bid to support the development of a vaccine and as a form of reward for treatment offered by the government.

The church has indicated readiness to support the government in the fight against the pandemic.

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