Accra Human Rights Forum international, a non-government organization based in Ghana, has called on the government of South Korea to urgently stop the discrimination and oppression against Shincheonji church, a minority religious group in the country amidst the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
This was part of the joint resolution reached at a 2-day Summit held on September 10 and 11 2020 on Covid-19 and human rights abuses against a minority religious group in South Korea following the outbreak of the pandemic.
A statement signed by Isaac Batun, Director of campaign and advocacy of the organization condemned in strong terms the discrimination in South Korea.
Shincheonji church congregants ,according to the organization in a statement during the summit , were been victimized by government officials as being responsible for the widespread infection of the pandemic after a patient identified as Patient 31 was confirmed to have tested positive to covid-19 on February 18,2020 .
As the outbreak of the infection continued in Shincheonji Daegu with over 5000 congregants becoming infected ,the government has continued to criticise Shincheonji church as being responsible for the spike in cases in other regions including Cheongdo Daenam hospital, Daejeon and Gwangju .
However, the Korean Centers for Disease control had announced publicly on July 6 it was not true that Shincheonji church was behind the mass outbreak of the pandemic in other regions as there was no correlation between the virus group in the mass infection in other regions and Shincheonji church .
As part of measures by health officials to curtail the spread of the disease for which the chairman of the church, Man-hee Lee apologized for the mass infection of the congregants through Patient 31,the church was directed to submit a list of its members in Korea and abroad for scrutiny .
The church was however criticised for not cooperating with officials as it was alleged that information provided had omissions and discrepancies , prompting government officials to raid the headquarters of the church to obtain the list of members.
Meanwhile,while it was thereafter officially confirmed that the list submitted matched the actual list of members, over 5,500 cases of different human rights violations including workplace bullying and stigmatization were reported by members .
Seoul mayor, Park Won-soon in his actions had on April 24 ordered the cancellation of corporate registration of Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of light (HWPL) a non-governmental organization, claiming that Shincheonji church had affiliation with the organization.
The discriminatory action of the government however contradicted reports by Korea Medical Association that Shincheonji was not the source of the outbreak of Covid-19 in South Korea but rather government’s failure to check community transmission in its first phase of quarantine.
The oppressive tendencies of the government however continued when over 200 tax officials from the National Tax Service launched what was considered as the largest investigation on any religious organization leading to the arrest of the 89 year old chairman, Man-hee Lee on charges of obstructing government’s covid -19 quarantine effort and financial offences .
The statement revealed that that while Shincheonji church was under investigation for breaching public health protocol against covid-19 which according to the group is largely inaccurate, mass infection in South Korea also occured in other places and organizations including clubs in Itaewon, Coupang logistics centre.
Accra Human Rights forum international, therefore call on the South Korean government to uphold the articles within the charter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Korean government is signatory to.
It further said that all forms of discrimination against members of Shincheonji church must be discouraged forthwith in line with the provisions of articles18, of Universal Declaration of Human Rights .
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights : “Everyone has the right to freedom of those, conscience and religion which includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. ”
Also articles 10.11 and 20 of the constitution of South Korea guarantees and gives protection against all forms of discrimination against its citizens,hence the urgent need to call the government of South Korea to immediately stop the discrimination against members of Shincheonji church and any other minority religious group in the country.