DAEGU, KOREA, February 22, 2021 /24-7PressRelease/ — On February 17th, nine leaders of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea were found innocent on all charges of “violating the Infectious Disease Prevention Act” after a COVID-19 outbreak in the Daegu church location early last year.
When “Patient 31” – an unknowing and asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier – attended a worship service in early February of 2020, about 5,000 people in the same church location tested positive in the coming weeks. Korean officials immediately launched an investigation into the church to identify the infectious disease response although there had not been any recommendation by the government to take preventive measures for religious services at the time of the outbreak.
Officials requested lists of Shincheonji facilities and church members’ personal information to conduct contact tracing, including those who were part of different church locations and even information from members of abroad churches. The investigators claimed that Shincheonji gave incomplete and incorrect lists of members. On July 31st they arrested Shincheonji Chairman Man Hee Lee on charges of obstructing the investigation by not giving all information to authorities. Other leaders of the church were arrested in their connection of allegedly obstructing investigations by “destroying evidence”.
The leaders were acquitted on the grounds that the “status of all Shincheonji members and facilities in the list of submissions does not fall under Article 18.2 of the Infectious Disease Prevention Act…” Chairman Lee was also found innocent of the COVID-19 charges against him and was released.
The presiding judge also noted the Korean officials’ investigation as potentially too excessive: “Shincheonji can check the attendance and close contact of the members of worship by QR code attendance, etc., and it seems that there is no need to request a list of all members because it is possible to identify members who have visited for a long time.”
In addition, due to the unpopularity of the church in South Korea, many members were persecuted by their families and acquaintances when portions of the lists given to Korean officials were leaked. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the church members were labeled by the public and the media as virus “super-spreaders”. Many members lost their jobs or were bullied in their schools and workplaces. In 82 cases, Shincheonji members were even denied medical treatment simply because they were attendees of the church.
Despite all the persecution, Shincheonji church members donated record-breaking amounts of convalescent plasma, which garnered a total of about 4,000 donations over a series of three drives hosted by the Korean Red Cross. Many of these plasma donations have been used in treatment or vaccine research already.
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