In February and March, South Korea became the scene of a large outbreak outside China, among members of the religious group, the Shincheonji Church.
An official of Green Cross Pharma, a South Korean biopharmaceutical company, said, “Plasma donations from healthy patients from Shincheonji Church will solve the problem of lack of blood for research.”
According to Green Cross, only 195 people in Korea had so far expressed their intention to donate blood plasma for research. But 43 of them were considered unsuitable for charity. At a time when plasma donations have been scarce and extremely valuable, prices of plasma range anywhere from $350 to $40,000 dollars per milliliter. According to the church, this sets its donation at a value of about $83 billion dollars.
The group further claims “this is by far the biggest collective effort made by any organization in the world towards COVID-19 research & development. And the medical fraternity in South Korea and across the world have deeply appreciated this gesture from Shincheonji Church.”
According to the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), out of a total of 12,484 cases in the country, at least 5,213 cases have been linked to church outbreaks.
Brief Background of spread of COVID-19 in South Korea
COVID-19 arrived in Korea as there were allegedly no restrictions to block foreign entrants. Shincheonji Church is one of minor religious groups which became a major victim of COVID-19 with over 4,000 of its members being infected with the virus. The virus may have spread in South Korea because of these foreign entries from China, according to the locals, which the government was unable to contain in its initial stages.
Thousands of discrimination cases were reported among the congregation members after the mass infection. Furthermore, the Korean government and the government of Daegu city has charged legal liability for damage caused by COVID-19 pandemic on the church, owing to the large scale infections.
The group claims “It is absurd to blame any organization for the legal, economic, and quarantine responsibilities of the loss from COVID-19. COVID-19 did not even originate in South Korea,” further stating “this is what politics and media have done to religion. If this is neglected and overlooked now, then politics will use religion continuously as their scapegoat for other crises too.”
By referring to the report from United States of America Commission of International Religious Freedom, the report to the UN said, “Shincheonji was suffering harassment from the South Korean government and society. Although some government measures appeared to be driven by legitimate public health concerns, others appeared to exaggerate the church’s role in the outbreak.”
“The government of Seoul locked down Shincheonji churches in the capital, and some mainline Protestant groups have accused the church of deliberately spreading the disease,” it continued.
The report stated, “The virus cannot be an excuse to violate human rights and religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of believers. Intolerance, violence, and discrimination against Shincheonji should be put to an end.”
“The news of Chairman Lee and Shincheonji being singled out and blamed for COVID-19 spread is deeply concerning to all faith leaders who valued freedom of religion and the protection of human rights. This adverse action shall have chilling repercussions through the religious world,” said Mr. Sheikh Musa Drammeh, Chairman of Islamic Cultural Center of North America.
Chairman of Shincheonji, Man Hee Lee encourages members to donate plasma
Despite facing numerous public outrages, more than 4000 members of Shincheonji’s congregation recently promised to donate plasma for the development of the drug for COVID-19. Church founder Lee Man-Hee internally advised recovered members from COVID-19 to donate their plasma, which is desperately needed for Coronovirus research.
“Many members of the church wanted to give donations to express thanks to the government and medical staff.” said Mr. Lee.
He further said that “there have been political motives in persecution of Shincheonji Church of Jesus and HWPL (a peace NGO)” by “using us (Shincheonji), the victims of COVID-19, as their scapegoat in order to hide their own faults.” He added, “Persecuting peace organizations, religious organizations, and violating human rights must be stopped in Korea.”
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