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Stop witch hunt, says Shincheonji

Christian sect at center of coronavirus outbreak in S. Korea denies hiding identities of worshippers

Shincheonji Church of Jesus spokesperson Kim Si-mon in a video posted on the group's YouTube channel, Friday. (Screenshot image from Shincheonji's YouTube channel)
Shincheonji Church of Jesus spokesperson Kim Si-mon in a video posted on the group's YouTube channel, Friday. (Screenshot image from Shincheonji's YouTube channel)

Shincheonji Church of Jesus said Friday it is being targeted in a witch hunt, despite having cooperated with authorities to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The minor Christian sect, known for its covert evangelistic activities, has been linked to more than half of South Korea’s coronavirus cases, including a massive number of cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province.

In a video posted on its official YouTube channel, the sect refuted public criticism that it has failed to provide a full list of its followers to the authorities, hampering efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“To contain the spread of COVID-19, Shincheonji Church of Jesus has provided the government with precise documents about domestic and overseas members, affiliates and membership course-takers, and we are cooperating with the government’s measures to the best of our capacity,” said the group’s spokesperson Kim Si-mon in the 11-minute clip.

According to the spokesperson, the religious group, which has 12 branches nationwide, has submitted a list of its 245,605 members to health authorities. It handed over the list of 212,324 members in Korea on Tuesday and another list of 33,281 members overseas the following day.

On Thursday, it shared with health authorities a separate list of 65,127 people who are taking required courses to join the church -- 54,176 here and 10,951 abroad -- under the condition the government would take full legal responsibility, as they are not yet officials members of the group.

The precise breakdown of numbers and dates came as Shincheonji has come under fire, after figures found in a Gyeonggi Province-led investigation did not match those the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received from the group.

“The witch hunt of Shincheonji Church of Jesus has reached its peak,” Kim said.

“Please stop hatred and oppression of members of Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Please immediately stop the slander and suppression committed by the media with fake news and unconfirmed information.”

Kim said the group was working to contact members who have not been reached, and vowed to work with health officials and municipalities.

Meanwhile, Jeonbuk Provincial Police Agency said it was looking into a document posted on social media titled “Shincheonji North Jeolla Province,” which contained the names, addresses and phone numbers of some 1,000 people.

The initial post on Friday morning has since been taken down, but it has continued to spread on social media.

“We are in the process of figuring out how the document circulated and whether the list is true,” an official at the agency said.

North Jeolla Province denied ties to the document, saying, “A public servant who is in charge of the list of Shincheonji members is in full control of the document, which we received from the Health Ministry’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We have banned disclosure of the list under any circumstance.”

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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