Justice for the Shincheonji Church, Korea's COVID-19 Victims

Justice for the Shincheonji Church, Korea's COVID-19 Victims

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My name is Alexandria Rose, I am a Shincheonji lecturer and a doctor of medicine. My true love is fighting infectious diseases and public health. As a doctor I spend many hours in the ICU helping the most vulnerable of people fight for their lives. However, during this time of the pandemic, I never thought I would be facing another battle, the fight to stop the persecution of Shincheonji believers around the world.

There are over 220,000 members of Shincheonji Church, a minority religious group in South Korea, who are facing acute discrimination, and persecution in the wake of COVID-19 as documented in a statement made to the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 18, 2020, A/HRC/44/NGO/23.

Since South Korea’s outbreak, there have been over 5,500 reported cases of human rights violations including  coercive conversion (a practice of forcibly making someone convert to another religion, this practice is only legal in one democratic country - South Korea) and 2 deaths of Shincheonji congregation members. This is all because the 31st patient of COVID-19 in Korea was a Shincheonji congregation member. Since then, the government raided the church and forced the church to hand over the identification of over 220,000 members including over 30,000 people who do not live in Korea or have anything to do with the local outbreak; sent over 100 investigators to examine the finances of the church; sued the church for over $100 million; the government has filed murder charges against the leader of the church; and arrested and investigated 5 of the churches leaders.

What is religious freedom and why is it so pivotal? According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), religion is the right of people everywhere to heed the call of conscience in matters of religion and belief, living out its dictates openly, peacefully, and without fear. The bedrock premise behind religious freedom is clear: no individual or entity has the right to force others to act against their conscience or prevent them from answering its call in a peaceful manner.

In line with these standards, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression during COVID-19. She especially took notice of a disregard in upholding international principles of “legality, necessity, proportionality and precaution” over the service of a legitimate, “least intrusive” public health objective.

The reality of these statements can not be more evident in the case of Shincheonji Church. According to USCIRF, Shincheonji is facing harassment from the South Korean government and society.

Due to the unexpected group infection, Shincheonji Church may have been dealt with poorly. However, the lawsuits and excessive investigations currently conducted in the Shincheonji Church are clearly religious oppression.

In relation to the abuses Shincheonji is facing, USCIRF called upon the South Korean Government to condemn scapegoating and to respect religious freedom.

Persecution during times of a pandemic is not new. Throughout history, minority religious groups have been blamed and scapegoated for the spread of pandemics. Jews were blamed during Black Death epidemics in Europe in the 14th century. In 1545, religious dissidents in Geneva were blamed for an outbreak of plague. We as a global society have seemingly learned from our mistakes by putting in place mechanisms like the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the State Department's International Freedom of Religion office to combat the evil that still exists in man.

However, one must ask if a country like South Korea, a democratic country, can get away with violation of freedom of religion, then how far have we really come? In this fight, there is still so much work to be done, and united we must do it.

For the reasons above, what we, the American Congregation of Shincheonji, are requesting is that, united, we sign this petition to urge the South Korean President, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the United Nations to take action to protect minority religious groups and the principles of freedom of religion and to respect the UNHRC Statement, document A/HRC/44/NGO/23.