The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a U.S. federal government commission has condemned South Korea for desecrating its church over coronavirus outbreak.
USCIRF expressed deep regret and concern over the situation.
In a statement released through its Twitter handle, it reacted that South Korea blamed the Shincheonji for the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are concerned by reports that Shincheonji church members are being blamed for the spread of the coronavirus and we urge the South Korean government to condemn scapegoating and to respect religious freedom as it responds to the outbreak,” the Twitter reads.
“The commission’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the U.S President, the Secretary of State, and Congress,” it adds.
Following the public criticism against Shincheonji since the mass infection took place centering around Shincheonji church in Daegu, the church leaders have cautioned South Korea to desist from blackmailing the Temple.
It said it was sheer desecration of the sanctity of the church to pour scorn on the members of the church, claiming that they were responsible for the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Since the outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the last day of 2019, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus has grown past 100,000 globally.
According to a report released by Johns Hopkins University on Friday, there were 100,330 confirmed cases and 3,409 deaths internationally.
As of Saturday, the confirmed cases reached 6,767 in Korea, which is the second most affected country by the coronavirus outbreak after China. Of these, 5,084 were from Daegu city, accounting for 75 percent of all confirmed cases in Korea.
The number of contagious diseases has spiked in South Korea since mid-February when a 61-year-old woman known as “Patient 31” tested positive after attending religious services at a branch of the Shincheonji Church in the southeastern city of Daegu.
The cry started to be raised saying that Shincheonji should take responsibility for the spread of the outbreak when Patient 31, who has not travelled abroad, attended two services, one on February 9th and the other on the 16th, at the church’s branch in Daegu without knowing she had caught the virus.
On February 22nd, a petition was submitted to the Blue House website, titled ‘I request the shutdown of
Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, by force’. Citing a report saying that the spread of the disease in the area of Daegu and Gyeongbuk was caused by Shincheonji’s unethical teachings and its anti-cooperation attitude toward the prevention of infectious diseases, the petition claimed that Shincheonji instructed its members to disturb the prevention of epidemics and tracking coronavirus cases. As of Saturday, the petition had drawn 1,245,708 signatures.
Fake news being poured out every day, fanning the religious discrimination
It is believed that the media should feel responsible that the spread of coronavirus has led to discrimination against a certain religious group because, without fact-checking, they republish fake posts from social networking services to garner more attention. Most of these turned out to be fake.
Last Thursday, the Korea Communications Commission (Chairman Han Sang-hyuk) held a meeting to discuss the role of the press and ways to report the news on the disaster more effectively.
At this meeting, Hyun-Jae Yoo, a professor of the School of Media, Arts, and Sciences at Seokang University, mentioned problems we are now facing. They included excessive framing, reports that do not help resolve the current problems and excessive generalization, which are merely for drawing people’s attention.
In fact, fake news about the 31st patient was reported several times. Fake news has been spread throughout the internet. The rumors were that the patient refused to receive treatment in a hospital but struggled with medical staff, demanding to get discharged and Shincheonji members made a disturbance in the hospital.
Also, a picture of a middle-aged woman spread on the internet, claiming to be a picture of patient 31. Police revealed that it was not a photo of her.
Daegu Police Office declared through their official facebook account that “Not only initial writers but also the distributors of the “Fake news about Coronavirus” will be tracked and accused with heavy measures.”
Concerns about a “Witch Hunt” at home and abroad
Discrimination and media framing that the spread of the disease is mainly caused by a certain religious group should be stopped. This cry has been raised at home and abroad.
“There are so many suggestions to highlight and exaggerate only negative sides and cases of Shincheonji to vilify it” said Jeon Ji-yun through the contribution article in Media Today.
She is an executive member of Another World, a Non-profit organization that prevents discrimination against minorities and corrects social wrongs.
She continued, “Poor handling and mistakes can happen in any groups and Shincheonji members are also the victims of the outbreak.”
“The responsibility for the spread of coronavirus doesn’t lie only with Shincheonji”, she added.
On March 2nd, the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) based in Italy, as well as eight human rights organizations, sent an open letter to Michelle Bachelet, chief of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ambassador Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at Large for International Religious Freedom to urge them to resolve the religious discrimination against Shincheonji Church.
An open letter titled “Coronavirus and Shincheonji: Stopping the Witch Hunt” asked the United Nations and the US government to urge the South Korean government to resolve the issue of coronavirus and to take appropriate action regarding the discrimination and violent acts against the members of Shincheonji.”