The unexpected onset of COVID-19 has impacted societies and lives all over the world. Various policies are being put in place, ranging from self-quarantine and social distancing to setting up containments.
When it comes to prevention efforts, South Korea is acknowledged worldwide as an example—for their policies, medical systems, and the active cooperation on the part of its citizens. Some of their protocols include obligation to wear masks, the encouraging of telecommuting, and the release of confirmed COVID-19 patients’ travel logs.
There are, however darker aspects of their conduct that are drawing criticism. The international community is expressing disapproval of the release of personal information of individuals who have been or are possibly infected as a means to stop the virus spread. They suspect that this infringement on human rights will fall heavily on the sexual and the religious minority.
Shincheonji Church of Jesus suffers as its worst victim. In addition to human rights, their religious freedom has been taken away—at the hands of the mainline conservative fundamentalist Protestant Churches, whose members hold considerable influence over the nation’s sociopolitical sphere. Shincheonji has been on the receiving end of their attacks of the same nature since before the virus.
In response, NGO’s, human rights groups, and religious communities worldwide are calling for redress of wrongs committed against this group after the outbreak.
Eleven NGO’s, including CAP-LC, submitted their reports for the ‘Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ at UN’s 42nd session of the Humans Right Council, which took place in June and July of 2020. It was titled Scapegoating Members of Shincheonji for COVID-19 in the Republic of Korea.
This UN report cited a portion of a document published by the United States of America (U.S.) Commission on International Religious Freedom on the same subject, which stated, “Shincheonji Church of Jesus (hereafter Shincheonji) was suffering harassment from the South Korean government and society. Although some government measures appeared to be driven by legitimate public health concerns, others appeared to exaggerate the church’s role in the outbreak.”
Furthermore, it stated, “The government of Seoul locked down Shincheonji churches in the capital, and some mainline Protestant groups have accused the church of deliberately spreading the disease.”
The report concluded by saying, “The virus cannot be an excuse to violate the human rights and religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of believers. Intolerance, violence, and discrimination against Shincheonji should be put to an end.”
Religious communities are also stepping in and spurring the South Korean government to redress their wrongs against Shincheonji.
Tahir Naveed, who is a former member of the Assembly of the state of Punjab and the current chairman of Pakistan Minorities Alliance, a group which represents religious minorities in Pakistan, joined in expressing his concern along with the rest of the world’s religious leaders and human rights organizations. In the past Naveed has led the draft of a bill that increased the quota of religious minorities’ employment. He was also the advocate of Rimsha Masih who was accused of blasphemy law in 2012—a case that drew worldwide attention.
Naveed voiced his stance regarding this topic, saying, “Through the Pakistani media, I heard that religious organization Shincheonji decided to donate the plasma of 4,000 cured people from COVID-19, [and was pleased to hear that so far 500 people’s plasma had been donated]. For the development of COVID-19 medicine, the plasma of cured people is necessary. If Korea makes the medicine of COVID-19, then Korea will do a wonderful work for the mankind. But I’ve got to know that the mainstream Christian organization is moving the politicians and media in Korea to persecute. I was so shocked to hear it.”
He continued, “The medical situation of Pakistan is not good. But at least we do not regard those who’re infected as a sinner. Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies’. If Jesus sees Christians persecuting Shincheonji because there are many infected people, how will he think about the Christians of today?” Swami Vedanand Saraswati, who is a spiritual leader of Durban Hindu in the Republic of South Africa (hereafter South Africa), wrote a letter of appeal to the South Korean Government, showing his support for the Shincheonji Church and asking them to repeal the lawsuit against them.
According to New View, a South African news media, on July 7 Saraswati stated regarding the group Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (hereafter HWPL), “Being a part of it is a blessing and echoes the vital need for such an organisation to exist in this day and age where hatred, discrimination and intolerance has become the order of the day. I therefore hold in the highest regard the founder of this great movement, Chairman Man Hee Lee from South Korea, who had the foresight to bring faiths and religious leaders together, hand in hand, speaking with one unified voice.” He continued, “I was thus extremely disturbed to hear of the deplorable actions taken against the Chairman, after the events that occurred due to the unfortunate COVID-19 outbreak at his church. I firmly believe that the Chairman, a man of great integrity, has done and continues to do all in his power to aid in fighting against the COVID-19 virus, and assist the relevant authorities where possible.”
Furthermore, regarding the group’s response he stated, “I was extremely happy to find out that irrespective of the actions taken against the Chairman, he requested those of his church membership who had recovered from the virus, to donate their blood plasma . . . The amount of blood will be about $83 billion worth and will solve the problem of the current lack of blood donations for research.”
Saraswati voiced his position on the topic by saying, “As a Hindu Spiritual Leader in South Africa, I fully support the Chairman and laud the selfless gesture from him and his congregation. I implore the South Korean Government and other relevant authorities to immediately drop all charges and lawsuits and rather support the efforts of the Shincheonji Church in encouraging other recoverees to donate their plasma.”
He then concluded his letter: “. . . our primary goal is unity, equality, respect and tolerance . . . Let us unite and support each other and stop these unwarranted attempts to tarnish pure intentions and righteous actions.”
Man Hee Lee, who is the Chairman of HWPL and the Chairman of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, asked for his church members to donate their blood plasma for the development of a cure for COVID-19, in the hopes of bringing an end to the epidemic; and 4000 members have agreed to donate. The donation process began on July 13, and so far 500 people have completed the procedure, and the rest will follow in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Chairman stated regarding the current state of affairs, “The politicians of Korea are acting on bias and revoking our status as a religious and peace organization in order to win over votes. They are scapegoating and casting the blame on people who are victims of COVID-19. They are doing this to cover up their own sins.”
It appears that more NGO’s, religious leaders, and human rights groups worldwide will continue to demand rectification for the wrongs committed against Shincheonji—a group that has been donating blood plasma to work towards bringing the pandemic to an end in spite of suffering extreme religious oppression and human rights infringement.