Protesters demand investigation of a death case of a 25-year-old Korean woman and legislation of a ban on forced conversion.
On January 28, 120,000 citizens in Seoul and major cities of South Korea, gathered to protest against forced conversion “education” by Christian pastors and establishment of legal framework on punishment of violent behavior in the name of religion.
Human Rights Association for Forced Conversion (HRAFC), a Korean civil society organization promoting social recognition of human rights violation by religion, held this rally for punishment of Christian pastors who have “consultation” with money and encourage families to kidnap their members who have different religious orientations. Recently, a 25-year-old woman, Ms. Ji In Gu was kidnapped and confined in a pension room and found dead after she was suffocated by her parents.
HRAFC claims that the death is a typical case of forced conversion for the following reasons. First, Ms. Gu was out of contact after she told her friends that she would be in family gathering. Second, the pension where she was found dead was reserved for three months. Third, physical violence between Ms. Gu and her parents led to her death while the parents stated that she was suffocated while they were “persuading the daughter”.
Back in July 2016, Ms. Gu had been also taken in a Catholic monastery for 44 days and forced to have “conversion education” by a pastor. She presented a petition on “closure of ‘cult consulting agencies’, legal punishment to pastors who carry out forced conversion, and establishment of a law banning religious discrimination” to the president through a government website. Until now there has been no official response.
HRAFC explains that this kind of illegal activities are disregarded by the police and authorities because they are “family” or “religious” problems. It further states that illegal actions are usually taken by family members, while pastors who encourage them are behind the net of the law.
“Violent behaviors including kidnapping, confinement, and attacks cannot be justified in any cases. Punishment against pastors who lead forced conversion and death of citizens is an urgent need to avoid further negative consequences,” said Mr. Sang Ik Park, president of HRAFC. “The victims of forced conversion exceed 1,000 people, and it is evident that there are more future victims without legal protection and careful attention by citizens is required,” he added.
According to HRAFC, forced conversion has been conducted mostly by pastors from the Protestant churches in South Korea to congregation members of religious groups as targets that the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) define as “cult”. The CCK is an association group of Protestant churches of Korea with conservative political ideology. Media coverages in South Korea report that forced conversion by the CCK can be seen as a series of controversial issues such as support for Japanese colonialism, military dictatorship in the past and corruption in elections with illegal fund.
The online petition on punishment of forced conversion with 100,000 support was delivered to the Blue House, the residential office of the President of South Korea, but it was deleted on the website. The Blue House has not provided an official statement regarding this matter.
The official position of the protestant churches in South Korea is forced conversion issues are unfounded. They claim that the consultations on “cult issues” are carried out voluntarily by the demands of family members and with agreement by the persons with different religious backgrounds. However, fact confirmation statements by the victims suggest that the agreement of “conversion education” is written by force when they are confined.