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Global leaders urge the South Korean Government and the UN to correct religious oppression during the COVID-19 crisis

On August 17th, the Coalition of Caribbean Leaders for Peace (CCLP) together with the former president of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sent a joint letter to South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. 
    
In the letter, they emphasized that the government’s measures to protect public health must not override their responsibility to preserve human rights, including religious freedom. They expressed their concern about the on-going oppression particularly towards Shincheonji (New Heaven and New Earth) Church, a Christian denomination in South Korea with over 5,000 members infected during the outbreak at the beginning of this year.
    
A report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) entitled, “Factsheet on the global response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the impact on religious practice and religious freedom” was cited, stating that “South Korea provides a vivid example of how public health emergencies can increase the risk to marginalized religious groups.”
    
Facts were pointed out in response to the allegations surrounding the religious group. According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus was already prevalent in the city of Daegu before the confirmation of Patient-31, the first member of the church to be infected. Since then, the church members have been facing discrimination due to the social stigma.
    
It was also noted that the government earlier refused to impose a travel ban on China, and in the face of growing public discontent, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae ordered the prosecution to investigate Shincheonji. Prosecutors have arrested church officials on the grounds of providing an incomplete and inaccurate list of congregation members for contact tracing, whereas the Vice Minister of Health has publicly stated that “the church has cooperated with authorities and that punitive measures against church members could complicate efforts to contain the outbreak.”
    
Prior to this, 11 NGOs including the European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP-LC) also submitted an annual report addressed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the scapegoating and public discrimination against the aforementioned church.
    
They pointed out that the government’s silence about the current situation would set a dangerous global precedent for allowing similar persecution, violence, and harassment against other religious minorities, and therefore, strongly urged them to “step forward to end this discrimination.”

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