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#Coronavirus and the Shincheonji Church in South Korea - Separating fact from fiction

Guest contributor



The whole world is currently facing a coronavirus pandemic that originated in China and quickly expanded to South Korea where a church was demonized for allegedly spreading the virus throughout the country, writes Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

In the international media cacophony that has been raging for a couple of months on this issue, there is a lot of fiction and fake news about it. A 30-page White Paper has just been published in five languages by a prominent scholar in religious studies, human rights activists, a reporter and a lawyer who have researched this phenomenon in South Korea. Distinguishing fact from fiction was their sole objective. After a thorough investigation, they have de-constructed about 20 biased and false stories, among many others, to which they have opposed facts. Here are some of these debunked fake news circulated in South Korea:

Fiction: The so-called Patient 31 identified as a Shincheonji member from Daegu has been accused of refusing to be tested twice because of her religious beliefs, of attacking a nurse and of hereby infecting many other coreligionists.

Fact: On 7 February, she was admitted to Saeronan Korean Medicine Hospital for a minor car accident and developed a cold that, she says, was attributed to an open window in the hospital. She insists that nobody mentioned coronavirus as a possibility to her, nor suggested a test. Only the following week, after her symptoms worsened, she was diagnosed with pneumonia, and then tested for COVID-19. That, when quarantined, she started screaming and assaulted the nurse in charge in the hospital, was reported by some news but denied by both her and the nurse.

Fiction: Shincheonji has been accused of teaching its members to rely on the sole protection of God and to reject any medical treatment.

Fact: Shincheonji does not teach its members that they are immune from sickness and should reject medical treatment when it is needed. On the contrary, its message to its members has been to follow the instructions of health officials and political authorities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It is also not true that Shincheonji’s religious services are uniquely unhygienic because participants sit on the floor rather than on chairs or benches; in fact, this is common in many religions, such as Buddhism or Islam.

Fiction: Shincheonji was accused of not being concerned about the epidemic and of delaying the closure of its religious services.

Fact: On 25 January 2020, and again on 28 January, Shincheonji’s leadership issued orders that no Shincheonji members who had recently arrived from China could attend church services. Moreover, the same day that the patient was tested positive, Shincheonji suspended all activities in its churches and mission centers, first in Daegu and within a few hours throughout South Korea.

Fiction: Shincheonji was accused of dragging its feet when the authorities asked for the list of all their church members. It was also reproached that it delayed the compilation and submission of this list, and that it was intentionally incomplete.

Fact: There is no such evidence that Shincheonji deliberately tried to hamper the authorities’ efforts. Shincheonji has more than 120,000 members and so it took time to collect such information. Shincheonji complied as quickly as it could. The Catholic Church or Protestant Churches might have been unable to provide such information or might have refused on privacy grounds. Unfortunately, after Shincheonji submitted this list, the identities of a number of its members were leaked to the public. This had catastrophic consequences for many of them, such as public stigmatisation and job loss.

The question is: Why is there an anti-Shincheonji campaign in South Korea and who is behind it?

The fictious stories and biased news have primarily been created and circulated by fundamentalist Protestant Churches that use them to call for the banning of Shincheonji. For years, they have been vainly fighting against Shincheonji under their crusade against theological heresies, but in reality, Shincheonji is targeted because it is a fast growing movement that threatens their membership. Those fundamentalist churches are conservative and anti-liberal, and represent a powerful majority in South Korea. They organise rallies and occasionally resort to violence against groups they label as “cults,” LGBTQI people, and Muslim refugees seeking asylum in Korea. They consider Islam to be a demonic religion that is inherently inclined to terrorism.

On 6 February 2020, the U.S Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government entity, issued a declaration stating: “USCIRF is concerned by reports that Shincheonji church members have been blamed for the spread of #coronavirus. We urge the South Korean government to condemn scapegoating and to respect religious freedom as it responds to the outbreak.”

The authors of the White Paper second this conclusion and appeal to the South Korean authorities. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to violate the human rights and religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of believers.

Willy Fautré is director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

Read the white paper here.



Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

Catherine Feore



Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case





An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent



On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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