No : 133/SK-KontraS/VII/2020
Subject : Open Letter: Regarding the Support for the Freedom of Religion or Belief of Shincheonji Church in South Korea
To: The Ambassador of the Republic of Korea Embassy
The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) – the human rights non-governmental organization, based in Jakarta Indonesia – would like to express strong concern regarding the freedom of religion or belief in the Republic of Korea.
We would like to send our solidarity with the Shincheonji Church, a minority religious group in South Korea. Since the Covid-19 epidemics hit and hundreds of members of the church tested positive for it, discriminations against Shincheonji members continues to grow. Being identified as a member of Shincheonji leads to the serious risk of being harassed, bullied, beaten, or fired from one’s job. Besides, the South Korean Government and other relevant authorities closed the church’s places, worship, and revoked the legal status of its related (but independent) charitable and cultural organization – HWPL (Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light).
In a document published in March 2020, the United States of America Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan body whose members are appointed by the President of the United States and the congressional leaders of both political parties, noted that 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.
As a member state of the United Nations, the Republic of Korea has committed to abide by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR Article 18 stipulated everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching. The fact that a religion practiced by the majority of the population, shall not result in any discrimination against adherents of other religions. The States parties must protect the practices of all religions or beliefs from infringement and protect their followers from discrimination or persecution based on their beliefs. Therefore, the Republic of Korea is legally bound to prohibit any type of coercion to the followers of religious denominations and/or eliminate conditions which cause or help to perpetuate discrimination prohibited by the Covenant.
Thus, we would like to deliver several recommendations to:
1. The Republic of Korea shall condemn scapegoating and respect religious freedom as it responds to the outbreak;
2. The Republic of Korea shall protect the minority religious group from discrimination and persecution from society as it protects any religious group in the country.
We are waiting for the Republic of Korea Government to make an immediate response regarding this issue and we look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you very much for your consideration.
Jakarta, July 21, 2020