Religious Leaders from India Condemn South Korean Government saying, Stop oppressing minority religions

Amid calls from the leaders of different sectors in the world, religious leaders in India have also joined the act of condemnation by sending letters to South Korean President Moon Jae-In, urging the South Korean government to stop religious discrimination.

Religious Leaders from India Condemn South Korean Government saying, Stop oppressing minority religions

On March 26, former Seoul Metropolitan Mayor Park Won-soon revoked his permission to establish "the New Heaven and New Earth, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony", which was registered in Seoul. Furthermore, on June 22, the city of Daegu, where the largest number of COVID-19 cases were confirmed, filed a civil suit worth 100 billion won against Shincheonji Church. All the steps were taken by the government holding Shincheonji church responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in South Korea.

On February 17, after the 31st patient was found infected in Shincheonji church in Daegu, more than 5,000 Shincheonji church members tested positive for COVID-19. At the request of the government, the church provided a list of Korean and overseas church members. During a press conference, it also promised to cooperate with any request from the government. As soon as the first confirmed case in the church was found, Shincheonji church shut down all of its buildings and facilities across the country for quarantine. It also switched all of its meetings online.

In July, most of the church members recovered from COVID-19. Despite several voluntary cooperation including the largest blood plasma donation in the world, the government's discriminatory policy towards Shincheonji Church and the social conflict of fake news in the Korean media has resulted in more than 6,000 cases of religious discrimination and human rights violations against the church in just a few months, including forced resignation, domestic violence, compulsory conversion education, and breach and leak of personal information. With the prolonged COVID-19 crisis, members of Shincheonji Church are at war against another virus called "discrimination."

Amid calls from the leaders of different sectors in the world, religious leaders in India have also joined the act of condemnation by sending letters to South Korean President Moon Jae-In, urging the South Korean government to stop religious discrimination and oppressing Shincheonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (Shincheonji church) by blaming them as the cause of the spread of COVID-19.

South Korea Government Should Stop Shifting the Responsibility of COVID-19 to a Single Minority Religious Group

A recent statement issued by the families of the deceased and victims of COVID-19 states that "the damage and deaths of Koreans reflect the failure of the initial response by the government to contain the virus." It also states that the Minister of Justice, Choo Mi-ae “allowed COVID-19 patients from China to enter Korea, leading to a widespread outbreak of the virus across the country, which resulted in the deaths of the Korean people.” It also stated that she is trying to cover up her responsibility for the damage by “giving direct orders to prosecutors for raid and arrests against Shincheonji Church”.

Dr. Homi B. Dhalla, Founder President of World Zarathushti Cultural Foundation points out that “In February 2020, the South Korean government had permitted religious organizations to conduct gatherings as well as to hold religious services. At the same time, a number of tourists from China had also entered South Korea. It is now a known fact, globally, that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in China in October 2019. Therefore, it is clear as daylight that the infection was brought into South Korea by these tourists. The citizens of South Korea have rightly blamed the government for permitting these tourists to enter the country. Under these circumstances, I would sincerely urge the South Korean government to stop harassing Chairman Man Hee Lee and members of the Shincheonji church,” he added.

Allama Syed Abdullah Tariq, the president of World Organisation of Religions and Knowledge introduced a similar case that happened in India in his condemnation letter to the president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in. He said “Politicians around the world search for scapegoats to hide their faults. Often, they need to create an enemy to mobilize support. More often they portray enemy is minority religion or ethnic of the country to win the support of the majority community.” “In India, the earliest infected people by COVID-19 belonged to a Muslim religious sect numbering about 80, and the social media started an organized campaign spreading rumors through morphed images and edited video clips that Muslims were intentionally spreading the disease,” he added. With the surprise to know that discrimination to the Shincheonji Church has been imposed by the South Korea government, he urged that “Let the Democratic Party of Korea be truly democratic by taking steps to stop the persecution of religious groups and let all people enjoy religious freedom.”

Dr. Chand Kanwar Bhardwaj, the general secretary of Sawan Adhyatmic Satsang Society of India mentioned that “Regardless of the church's unintentional role in spreading the virus, we cannot put the blame of an entire country on a single organization. The entire world is reeling through COVID-19 and Shincheonji church including its members are also a victim of it.” “Treating them with contempt and charging legal proceedings against their organization and their faith, just because they are a minority religious group is a clear violation of constitutional rights,” he added.

“Aren't the governments elected by the citizens to protect their rights? Discrimination in any form shouldn't be acceptable. This is high time for the world governments to come together and protect each individual and provide facilities on humanitarian grounds rather than blaming and targeting an individual or an organization. A Democratic Government should stand by its principal and act accordingly. If the Lawmakers don't follow the laws they made, then what shall we expect from the public?” says Md. Irshad Ahmad, the president of Minorities Forum for Deepening Democracy.

Gautam Patil, the state vice president of The Buddhist Society of India said, “South Korea's strategy to control the coronavirus outbreak has heralded an exemplary response which the whole world has witnessed today. However, it is saddening to know that the country is exploiting human rights in regard to religious discriminations.” “An organization or a religious group cannot be blamed as the spreader of the virus. The use of religion in politics always leads to violation, exploitation, and discriminations among the minority which solely affects the human rights of the citizens,” he added.

The Government Must Not Accept the Unilateral Allegations of the Christian Council of Korea, Which Has Led a Coercive Conversion Program

There is also a view that a close relationship between the conservative and fundamentalist churches and the South Korean government had influence on the unusual repression of the government against Shincheonji church. On July 20, a webinar titled “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Scapegoating Shincheonji in South Korea” was hosted by the Center for Studies on New Religions and HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers.  The new Christian movement by Shincheonji has become a target of “persecution from fundamentalist protestants” because of its successful religious expansion “from the conservative and fundamentalist protestants who see Shincheonji as competitors and want to destroy it," said Massimo Introvigne as an Italian sociologist of religion who studied Shincheonji before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and published the first account of the religious group in English.

Religious leaders in India also urge that the South Korean government should not handle the current pandemic situation with prejudice just because Shincheonji Church is a minority religious group. Sri Ramchandra Das, the Secretary of International Goudiya Vedanta Trust pointed out in his letter sent on July 15th that the treatment by the government towards Shincheonji Church is clearly religious discrimination. “In terms of the peace of religion, we all believe in the same God and need to be in harmony and balance. We shouldn't be biased by looking at one side. In fact, to be honest, the church members are victims of COVID-19 and not perpetrators.”

Prior to the COVID-19 incident, two members of Shincheonji church lost their lives through coercive conversion programs operated by the Christian Council of Korea. According to the Coalition for Victims of coercive conversion, the number of victims of this deprogramming is 1,507, and they have been exposed to assault, kidnapping, confinement, and forced leave from their work and schools. A voice of criticism for the coercive conversion program was also raised. Speaking about the discrimination towards Shincheonji church by the Christian Council of Korea, Allama Syed Abdullah Tariq, the president of World Organisation of Religions and Knowledge also mentioned, “I fail to understand why the Christian Council of Korea opposes it tooth and nail when there are more than 25,000 registered denominations among the Protestants and every one of them at some point of time was a new entrant.”

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right of all people. In contrast, the act of the forced conversion of religion is the greatest violation of this right. The act of the forced conversion of religion has nothing to do with religion at all,” said Dr. Kamini Gogri, Head of Research on Ancient Scriptures, Eikam Resonance Foundation said. “We request to stop the violations of right and the atrocities committed by mainstream Christian churches to violate the same,” she added.

The World Should Appreciate the $83 Billion Worth of Plasma Donation for Vaccine Development by the 4,000 Recovered COVID-19 Patients from Shincheonji Church

Even amid continuous discrimination, more than 4,000 members of Shincheonji Church showed their willingness for plasma donation for the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The recovered patients voluntarily decided to donate their plasma and even refused to receive any monetary expenses including transportation charges. Starting from 17 July, 500 church members completed their donation. More members are waiting for their turn.

Dr. Avtar Singh Sethi, the Advisor of The Kalgidhar Trust/Society said, “4,000 infected members of Shincheonji church voluntarily donated plasma after recovering from the virus. Their contribution to fighting the pandemic should be appreciated. At these times of crisis, let us all come together and fight the pandemic of COVID-19. I condemn the scapegoating of Shincheonji church, and I urge the government to stop blaming any section of the society for spreading the virus and to respect religious freedom,” he added.

Rev Dr, C S Gabriel, the president of Christhava Nallenna Iyakkam says, “Although there is hatred towards them, I appreciate the sincere efforts made through the blood plasma donation by Shincheonji Church members, who were cured of the virus. This is alarming as it threatens other minorities in the country and globally too amid the pandemic. The infected ones are those who need to be protected, not blamed, and discriminated against.”

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