By Alessandro Amicarelli – Covid-19 has stopped the world, but it did not stop the persecution of minority groups in several countries. Our organisation, the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) which works with the All Faiths Network, had more work to dodenouncing abuses and reporting the perpetrators to protect the victims, whilst keeping on advocating the protection of freedom of religion and belief for everyone.
In 2020, our team published two White Papers on the crackdown on Shincheonji in South Korea after incidents related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We feel that a third White Paper is now needed, as we continue to collect documents and interview witnesses (via Zoom, due to the pandemic’s restrictions), and new developments have followed the arrest and detention of Shincheonji’s founder, Chairman Lee Man Hee.
Eileen Barker, Europe’s most senior scholar of new religions, notes in her entry “New Religious Movements” in the 2020 SAGE Encyclopedia of the Sociology of Religions, that “one does not often see reports of the charitable work in which many of the NRMs engage,” even if it is sometimes “outstanding.” That this happens, is evidence of the phenomenon social scientists call “gatekeeping.” For different reasons, the media filters out news that do not correspond to certain agendas or established stereotypes. New religious movements, derogatorily identified as “cults” are by definition malignant, and cannot do anything good.
In the night between July 31 and August 1, 2020 (UTC+09:00), Chairman Lee Man Hee, the founder and leader of the South Korean religious movement Shincheonji, has been arrested.
He is accused of having contributed to his movement’s alleged lack of cooperation with the authorities after a member was infected with COVID-19, of having embezzled funds belonging to Shincheonji for building the Palace of Peace, and of having maintained an event in 2019 that the authorities had asked to cancel because of a “typhoon alert.”
On July 20, a webinar on a new religious movement in South Korea, its political, religious, and social dimensions, and its discrimination during the COVID-19 crisis was organized by CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers. International scholars in the fields of religion, international law, and human rights discussed the theme, “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Scapegoating Shincheonji in South Korea.” Speakers at the webinar were Rosita Šorytė, J. Gordon Melton, Massimo Introvigne, Alessandro Amicarelli, Willy Fautré and Ciarán Burke.
Dear Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha:
We represent NGOs and academic research centers specialized in the defense of freedom of religion and belief. We write to you as we are aware of your distinguished career at the United Nations, and appreciate your attention to human rights. We have followed with great concern the problems in South Korea of a new religious movement known as Shincheonji. Some of us have studied Shincheonji for years, and some have produced academic studies about it.
A webinar organized by the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF)
Date/Time: Monday, July 20, 2020, 17:00 (UTC +2, Brussels time)
The fact that one member of Shincheonji, a Christian new religious movement in South Korea, was not timely diagnosed with COVID-19, attended church services, and set in motion a chain of events where thousands of her church's members were infected, led to the government's requests for lists of all members of the group and massive testing.
Report to the United Nations General Assembly on Eliminating Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16)
Dear General Rapporteur:
We are NGOs specialized in defending religious liberty, and scholarly organizations promoting research on new religious movements. We are concerned about discrimination against a Christian new religious movement known as Shincheonji in South Korea (on Shincheonji, see Introvigne 2019, Introvigne 2020).
"We are scholars, human rights activists, reporters. and lawyers, all with a substantial experience in the field of new religious movements (derogatorily called “cults” by their opponents). Some of us have studied the Korean Christian new religious movement known as Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (in short, Shincheonji).
Despite suspicions to the contrary, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus membership list that authorities obtained through a probe was not much different from the list the Christian sect had provided earlier.
Some politicians, heads of local governments and Justice Ministry officials had called for a prosecutorial investigation into the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, accusing the sect of hampering disease control efforts by intentionally omitting names from the list it submitted.
H.E. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights
H.E. Ambassador Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
Dear President Bachelet:
Dear Ambassador Brownback:
We represent international NGOs specialized in the defense of religious liberty. We are deeply concerned with a growing number of instances of intolerance and discrimination against Shincheonji, a South Korean new religious movement, after a number of its members were diagnosed with COVID-19.
by Massimo Introvigne (CESNUR) — Media all around the world are focusing attention on Shincheonji Church, a South Korean Christian new religious movement, after members of the church’s Daegu congregation were infected by the coronavirus. As a scholar who has studied Schincheonji, I am concerned with the fact that international media that obviously know nothing about it have ‘discovered’ this church overnight because of the coronavirus incidents in Korea, and have repeated inaccurate information they found on low-level Internet sources.