On February 18th, a member from Shincheonji Church located in Daegu, a city in Korea’s southeastern region, was the first to test positive for Covid-19 from Shincheonji Church. Although there were 30 confirmed patients in Korea beforehand, the member of Shincheonji Church, also known as patient #31, is perceived as the main culprit behind the Covid-19 outbreak in Korea. The members of Shincheonji Church who already faced stigma such as social discrimination and violence due to being labeled a “cult” by mainstream conservative Christian churches, even before the Covid-19 outbreak, have been exposed to more serious discrimination and unfair treatment in the wake of the global crisis. Therefore, this report defines damage unrelated to the infection of Covid-19 as “secondary damage.” As of July 2020, there have been 5508 cases of secondary damage due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The secondary damage include death without clear identification of cause, violence, dismissal from work, denial of hospital care, and coercive conversion training accompanied by kidnapping and confinement.
In addition to the long standing criticism of Shincheonji Church by conservative Fundamentalist Christian groups, the main cause of secondary damage is because public institutions, including local municipalities, did not protect the rights of the members of Shincheonji Church – such as freedom of religion and privacy – after the list of all Shincheonji members, including overseas members, was provided to the government. In the government report, Shincheonji was referred to as a “sect”, which carries negative connotations, and this word choice shows that the Korean government and society view Shincheonji Church in a negative light. As a result, Shincheonji members feel afraid that their personal information can be leaked, regardless of if they have caught Covid-19, and they are exposed to social discrimination and unfair treatment. The statistics and descriptions in this report cover what the members of Shincheonji experience in their daily lives due to their families, workplaces, and communities.
This report aims to introduce the current situation regarding the damage that have been voluntarily reported by the members of Shincheonji Church nationwide. It contains information of damage inflicted on the members of Shincheonji Church by age, region, perpetrator, and type of damage after the large-scale Covid-19 outbreak at the Shincheonji Church in Daegu.
Damage Incurred by Age Groups
The Shincheonji Church is divided into elders, men, women, youth, and student departments. Therefore, damage incurred by age groups are not differentiated by gender other than the men’s and women’s department who are aged 36 to 70 due to Shincheonji Church’s administrative procedures. According to statistics, women aged from 36 to70 showed the highest ratio with 60.2%, and the second highest was youth from 20 to 35 at 28.8%.
Although there are no specific numbers, it can be inferred that most of the secondary damage cases are related to women. There are several reasons for this. First, because women make up a large portion of the Shincheonji Church. Second, when considering the victim cases and statistics relating to coercive conversion programs accompanied by physical violence, women are more exposed to kidnapping and confinement than men. Third, in the case of youth aged 20-35, there are many secondary damage related to family and parents because, according to Korean culture, parents feel responsible over their children’s’ lives in various social settings such as marriage, employment and schooling, even after the children become legal adults.
Damage Incurred by Regions and Churches
98.4% of confirmed patients from the Shincheonji Church were members of Shincheonji Church in the Daegu North Gyeongsang region. However, if you examine the number of secondary damage cases of the Shincheonji Church members after Covid-19, they occurred all across Korea with 18.14% in Daegu North Gyeongsang Province, 13.57% in Seoul South Gyeonggi Province, and 12.35% in South Jeolla Province.
The nationwide spread of secondary damage cases shows that all Shincheonji members are exposed to social discrimination apart from Covid-19. This is partly a result of the long-term conservative Fundamentalist Christian organizations’ hate campaign against Shincheonji and it also shows that Shincheonji has become the target of social anxiety and concern as no one was able to discern the cause nor the solution to the Covid-19 outbreak. The categorization of Shincheonji members apart from the rest of the Korean citizens by public institutions including local municipalities only accelerated the social flow of hatred and distrust. In conclusion, the widespread social hatred and negative awareness of Shincheonji across Korea is not a specialized and short-term effect of Covid-19, but a result of comprehensive and long-term misunderstandings, hatred, and distrust rooted within Korean society.
The Shincheonji Church has 70 branch churches across the nation. All members are affiliated with a church depending on age and region. The following graph lists the 12 churches that were most affected by secondary damage. Just as the aforementioned regional statistics show, not only members of the Daegu church, which had the highest number of confirmed patients, but Shincheonji members all over the nation are suffering from secondary damage.
Who are the perpetrators?
A key indicator shown in the type of damage is the damage caused by family, which makes up more than half of all damage at 52.4%. Out of damage caused by family, damage caused by the husband to the wife were the most common at 1,448 cases, and the second highest was damage caused by parents to children at 1,251 cases. There were also 318 cases where the children harmed the parents.
Following damage caused by family, 42.5% of damage were due to communities that Shincheonji Church members were associated with. Hospitals, schools, and public institutions are included in such communities. Hospitals denied care, schools bullied and ostracized children, and many public institutions forced people to disclose their status as a member of the Shincheonji Church before they could use the services.
Most of the perpetrators were part of the communities associated with the member’s personal lives. In particular, families are a main cause of conflict for the members of the Shincheonji Church. Even the cases of members who lost their lives at coercive conversion before the Covid-19 outbreak were associated with families. This is why this area requires more professional investigation and research to analyze if interactions between family members such as conflict, communication, and reconciliation could influence damage.
Forms of Damage after Covid-19
The statistics reflect specific keywords in the damage case descriptions. The criteria of statistics are as follows.
- Cases related to the husband: cases that include the keyword “husband” in the description
- Cases related to personal information leakage: cases that include the keywords “leakage, personal information” in the description
- Cases related to violence: cases that include the keywords “violence, beating” in the description
- Cases related to denial of hospital care: the keyword “hospital” must be included in the description and include at least one keyword out of “denial, refusal, disallowance”
- Cases related to persecution from children: the keyword “persecution” must be included in the description and include at least one keyword out of “child, son, daughter, children”
- Cases related to denial of institution usage: cases that include at least one keyword out of “denial of usage, refusal of usage, impossible to use”
- Cases related to coercive conversion: cases that include the keywords “conversion, coercive conversion” in the description
- Cases related to dismissal from work and ostracization: the keyword “workplace” must be included in the description and include at least one keyword out of “dismismal, ostracization, bullying”
- Cases related to being disclosed as a member of the Shincheonji Church: cases that include at least one keyword out of “Shincheonji, SCJ” and at least one additional keyword out of “leakage, disclosure”
- Cases related to persecution from parents: the keyword “persecution” must be included in the description and include at least one keyword out of “parents, mother, father, mom, dad”
Two members of Shincheonji Church died due to family-related persecution and hatred after the community outbreak centered around the Daegu church. On February 26th, a woman fell 7 stories and died in Ulsan. Shincheonji Church revealed that the woman had died after being abused and harassed by her husband for being a Shincheonji Church member, but the police said they had no knowledge of this(related news).
On March 9th, a woman in her 40s who lived in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province jumped from the 11th floor and died after arguing with her husband. She had been abused physically and verbally by her husband for over 7 years for being a member of the Shincheonji Church. She continuously sought help from those around her, but ended up passing away without solving the problems with her husband. However, the police have not started investigations so there is still no clarification of facts as of now.
The number of secondary damage cases incurred by family members within 3 months has reached 3,017 cases. Family members were mostly verbally abusive and there are also cases of physical violence, threats and harassment. Husbands have threatened divorce, and parents have threatened to cut financial support, and have even placed the belongings of the Shincheonji members outside of the home and denied them entry.
There are 93 cases of coercive conversion due to family members. Coercive conversion refers to training carried out by pastors and cult counselors in the Christian church to forcefully convert a person’s religion. Coercive conversion is often accompanied by kidnapping, confinement and abuse so it is a gross human rights violation and its damage is severe. However, because families sign contracts and pay money to the pastors, coercive conversion is able to avoid the law.
After February 18th, when the first Shincheonji Church member tested positive for Covid-19, there have been 55 cases where people have been dismissed, ostracized and bullied at the workplace just because they are members of Shincheonji Church. For example, forcing people to curse the chairman of Shincheonji has been introduced as a way to check if students or employees are members of Shincheonji Church.
Discriminatory approaches and attempts to target Sincheonji by public institutions can also be controversial. Korea’s Ministry of Justice sent out an official announcement to prison workers around the nation to self-report if they are Shincheonji Church members, and North Jeolla Provincial Office sent out a text to its residents to report any Shincheonji member’s homes or related locations. Many companies and hospitals around the nation have also ordered workers to self-report if they are Shincheonji members.
There are 38 cases where hospitals have denied treatment to Shincheonji members. One member was put in critical danger because that person was unable to receive kidney dialysis on time. After the mass outbreak of Covid-19 in Daegu, Shincheonji Church members all around the nation faced difficulties at not only hospitals but also at public institutions because institutions not only checked for overseas visits and temperature but also if people were members of the Shincheonji Church. There were 102 cases when people were denied entrance because they were Shincheonji members.
<case 1> Kim Jong-min, a youth member in Daegu Church
Kim is currently working as the electricity manager at Jisan Hyundai Mansion Management Office. On 23 February (Sun), the management office somehow found out that Kim was a Shincheonji member and posted a notice on the bulletin board as well as inside the elevator.
Title: Management Office Worker (Kim Jong-min, Electrician) Tests Positive for Covid-19
This is an announcement from the management office.
Today Mr. Kim Jong-min, an electrician at Jisan Hyundai Mansion Management Office, tested positive for the Wuhan Pneumonia (Covid-19). Although Mr. Kim is a member of the Shincheonji Church, the residents and workers were unaware of this fact. Currently, all the employees of the management office are being tested at the hospital. All households that Mr. Kim visited recently should be on watch and take necessary precautions according to procedures. The management office will also do our best in taking care of the situation. The households visited by Mr. Kim will be announced through a separate announcement.
Jisan Hyundai Mansion Management Office
<case 2> Daum online café called “Daegu Mom” (Number of members 151,357 people, Number of Visitors 940,959 people)
On 22 February (Sat) 9:58 PM, confirmed patients’ movement paths in Gyeongsan-si were posted on Daum online café, “Daegu Mom.”
<case 3> Shin Chae-hyeon, a youth member in Cheonan Church
After the spread of COVID-19, Shin’s father called her, her mother and sister who attend Shincheonji Church heresy repeatedly. He said, “You go ahead and live on your own and don’t regret it.” He threw college tuition documents at Shin and threatened her mother to sign divorce papers.
<case 4> Hong Eun-chong, a youth member in Ulsan Church
On 26 February (Wed), while Hong was working at his workplace in Namgu Ulsan City Office, he received an announcement to voluntarily report to the office if you are a Shincheonji member,
or have a family member who is a Shincheonji member. Also, they said they would file a charge under the name of interference with government affairs if they find out that someone tries to hide it. However, Hong did not have any symptoms so he did not interfere with government affairs but he was mistreated.