South Korean Citizens Protest Against Government Inaction on Human Rights Violation

One Hundred Thousand Strong Nationwide Rally Demands Legislation on the Renunciation of Religion Based Violence and Coercive Conversion

Human Rights Association for Victims of Coercive Conversion Programs Host Rally in Seoul, South Korea

The South Korean government has been actively engaged in the reconciliation process with North Korea, however, its inactivity to protect its citizens' freedom of religion has led to a massive rally. According to Cheonji-News, on March 4 the Human Rights Association for Victims of Coercive Conversion Programs (HAC) hosted a nationwide protest of 100,000 people in the capital city of Seoul and major cities to push for legislation to protect religious freedom in the country. The protest was calling to attention recent issues of human rights violations related to the practices of kidnapping and confinement associated with coercive conversion programs. No official statement from the government on the 1,000 victims from coercive conversion programs or the rallies have been made.

The South Korean rallies have spurred an international response with 22 rallies held on the national and international level. Human rights organizations organized protests in the United States, Japan, the Philippines and France totaling over 200,000 participants in January. The protests were initiated by human rights groups after the death of Ms. Ji-In Gu a victim of coercive conversion. The recent rallies are a part of an international movement demanding action in the silence of the Korean government.

Ms. Gu was found dead in January while she was confined in a lodge receiving conversion education. She suffocated due to an obstruction in her airways. She had been kidnapped by her family and was being forced to change her religious views. In 2016, she was forcibly taken to a Catholic abbey by her family for 44 days to receive education from a Christian pastor who was forcing her to convert.

After her first experience with coercive conversion, Ms. Gu became an activist to stop the illegal practices of the programs. She started a petition demanding the presidential office to provide citizens legal protection from religious discrimination. There was no official response or governmental actions taken. Amid her advocacy, Ms. Gu was kidnapped a second time and was found dead at a coercive conversion program site.

The HAC urged the government to take responsibility for investigation of the conversion programs and petitioned for the prevention of the occurrence of similar cases of discrimination. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism stated it cannot carry out investigations of any religious nature on due to the principle of the separation of church and state. According to the HAC, there have been 1,000 victims of coercive conversion in the last decade. An online petition for the ban on coercive conversion was posted on the government website and received 140,000 supporters. The petition was taken down from the website.

The religious community in South Korea has not yet been active in the fight against forced conversion. Programs have been carried out by various mainstream churches in South Korea, targeting members who have left and changed their religious affiliations. The Korea Christian Heresy Research Center has been promoting the conversion programs and states the pastors involved in "cult consulting" should be protected. They claim the purpose of the programs is to educate 'lost followers' who have been taken by "cults".

Ms. Ji Hye Choi, co-president of HAC explained the issue with forced conversion programs stating, "Some Christian pastors are considering it a way to make money. In the name of 'counseling' and as a way to protect family members from being recruited into cults, the pastors who take part in this program instill distrust among family members who pursue other religions." "The consequence is mental trauma, divorce, job loss, incidence of school dropout and many other problems," she added.

Ms. Hye Jung Lim, a victim of coercive conversion recounted her experience at the Franceinter a state-run French radio station. "Three men came to me grabbed me my hair and dragged me down. I jumped over the wall, ran barefoot and I got into a taxi. My life changed forever. The relationship I had with my family was gone. I reported the incident to the police but their response was 'family issues should be handled within the family.'"

Mr. Sang Ik Park, co-president of HAC stated "The fundamental issue behind the death of a young woman from the conversion program is the corruption of the Christian organizations represented by the Christian Council of Korea (CCK), a conservative organization of Christian churches across South Korea. The CCK has dealt with many controversies in the past support for the military dictatorship in the 1970s and bribery during CCK presidential elections. It is only natural that many followers leave the church to pursue other religions. What can we say about the relationship between the government and the church when the government is hesitant to protect citizens and religious groups are not willing to give love to those who lose faith?"

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Source: Cheon-Ji News

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