International Scholars have raised concerns over an alleged attempt to destroy a new religious movement in South Korea by accusing them of spreading COVID-19.
At a webinar entitled “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: the scholars, alleged aggressive attack from politically powerful conservative and fundamentalist Protestant churches in the country against a newly-established, fast-growing Christian denomination named ‘Shincheonji also known as New Heaven and New Earth Church of Jesus.
According to a religious scholar Massimo Introvigne, the new Christian movement, Shincheonji has become a target of “persecution from fundamentalist protestants” who see them as competitors because of their expansion.
Massimo Introvigne, an Italian Sociologist of religion who studied Shincheonji before and after the COVID-19 pandemic had published the first account of the religious group in English.
Chairman European Federation for Freedom of Belief, Alessandro Amicarelli pointed out that the South Korean authorities problematised Shincheonji as a cause of the COVID-19 crisis to shut down the church.
“Already 30 other people were tested positive before the patient 31 (a member of Shincheonji criticised for the widespread of the virus). Many Chinese including ones from Wuhan had visited Daegu (of South Korea) and infection spread,” he said.
Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), Willy Fautre said, “human rights violations against Shincheonji members through a coercive conversion programme (also known as ‘deprogramming’) with kidnapping and confinement for the last decade have been made as a result of the failure of competition from the Protestant churches in the country.”
Associate Professor, University of Derby, Ciaran Burke who noted that the South Korean health authorities explicitly link Shinchoenji and outbreak of the COVID-19, though a greater link between the virus and confirmation cases has been found in other churches also expressed concerns over “collecting personal information of 300,000 domestic and international Shincheonji members by the government which is a possible violation of the international agreement, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) South Korea ratified in 1990.”
The prosecution initiated an investigation of Shincheonji leaders including founder Man Hee Lee for his alleged role in the widespread of the COVID-19 with three Shincheonji officials arrested on July 8 on a charge of playing a role in a major outbreak at its early stage by allegedly “submitting an inaccurate list of members.”
A recent statement issued by “families of the deceased and victims of COVID-19” wrote that “the thousands of the damage and deaths of Koreans reflect the failure of the initial response to contain the virus by the government.”
It added 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 avoid her responsibility for the damage by “giving direct orders to prosecutors for a raid and arrests against Shincheonji Church”.
A leading South Korean TV network, MBC reported that a recently conducted screening at Daegu, epicenter of COVID-19 major outbreak within South Korea added the weight to the failure of initial response to contain the virus by the government.
The report, citing analysis from a local university hospital, inferred that at least 180,000 of the total population of 2.4 million people in the city of Daegu were infected with the COVID-19, 27 times to the official 6,800 confirmed cases. Most of the confirmation cases, over 5,000, are members of Shincheonji Church as their personal information was collected by the government, while the remaining 180,000 potential infections have not been investigated.