NGO raises concerns over forced conversion attempts in South Korea

Human Rights Association for Forced Conversion (HRAFC), a Korea-based NGO raising awareness of human rights violation from religious conflict, reported that a 25-year-old woman named Ms. Ji In Gu was kidnapped, confined, assaulted and finally suffocated by her family in South Korea in a forced conversion attempt.

Some 30,000 citizens recently  joined a rally for investigation of a death case caused by forced conversion and violent behavior in Gwangju, South Korea.

The parents of Ms. Ji In Gu had stated that the incident “accidentally happened in a family trip”. They claimed that they tried to stop their daughter’s shouting when they tried to persuade her. One of Ms. Gu’s friends said, “She didn’t even know it was a family trip. We were supposed to meet on the New Year’s Day after her gathering with family.” She further asked, “Where is the family trip that a family member doesn’t know about?”

Ms. Eun Kyung Lim from HRAFC Gwangju division claimed, “Isn’t it nonsense that forced conversion with human rights infringement takes place in a country that is defending freedom of religion by the constitution? The purpose of such cruel conversion by Protestant pastors is to make money and hold their congregation members.”

“This case showed the similar pattern of forced conversion happening in many parts of Korea. Parents are used to kidnap their children, put them into a room or pension, force them to convert. When their children unwillingly agree, pastors come to the place and teach their own religious doctrines,” added Ms. Lee.

Before this misfortune resulting in her death, Ms. Gu had been also taken in 2016 for 44 days and forced to have “conversion education”. On June 4 last year, she presented a petition to the president through an online government service called e-People regarding “closure of ‘cult consulting agencies’, legal punishment to pastors who carry out forced conversion, and establishment of a legal framework banning religious discrimination”.

Back in 2007, Ms. Sun Wha Kim was killed when she refused to convert into another religion. According to a report from HRAFC, like the case of Ms. Gu, the ex-husband killed her with a hammer, which led to ten-years of prison sentence by the court.

“The main target of forced conversion by pastors is congregation members who do not belong to major protestant denominations. They are forced to have sleeping pills, tied up with chains or handcuffs, confined in a room for months. This is when they have no choice but to unwillingly listen to and accept doctrines of pastors. The victims from this kind of case are over 1,000,” explained HRAFC.

The number of congregation members in traditional Christian denominations has been constantly decreasing. Many scholars and experts suggest that secularization at a global level attributes to distrust of religion from corruption and social representation of conservatism.

Christian Pastor Won Kyu Yang said, “The Christian Council of Korea (CCK) represents Christian churches with conservative political ideology in Korea. The CCK has gained influence in association with political powers and created controversy because of its electoral fraud, human rights violation, political collusion. With its origin when supporting a long-term dictatorship of the military government of Korea in the past, the influence is still visible as many political leaders are from the CCK.”

“In order to protect citizens, it is the responsibility of state that puts an end to behaviors of religious leaders who instigate kidnapping, confinement and other violent actions in the name of religion against those having different ideas or values,” emphasized Mr. Jae Young Park, General Director of Department of Religion, HWPL, an international peace organization under the UN ECOSOC.

“When we continue to overlook the reality of violation of human rights, more conflicts and tragedy will be incurred. Religious leaders must not teach hatred against other religions to their congregation members,” he added.

As a UN affiliated NGO, Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) has been carrying out peace building projects around the world with the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War (DPCW), which addresses peace-related principles including prohibition of hostile actions, ethnic/religious freedom and spreading a culture of peace. Along with promotion of global peace building through legislation process and education, interfaith dialogues for understanding and harmony of religions based on comparative studies on scriptures have been conducted in 124 countries to find common human value for peace in religion.

Chairman Man Hee Lee of HWPL said, “Today the issues of religion are closely linked to the cause of conflicts. Religion should be the light in the world and lead the world in a good way. We as people should be the reality of peace.”