Commemoration in Cape Town creates religious freedom awareness

Siyabuka Tunyiswa

CAPE TOWN - On Sunday, 6 January 2019 the Human Rights Association for Victims of Coercive Conversion Programmes (HAC) hosted a memorial service to commemorate the murder of coercive conversion victim, Ms Ji-in Gu at the Company Gardens in Cape Town. The organisers hosted this service to create awareness and educate the public about the devastating effects of human rights abuses on families and individuals.

Over 500 people attended the service, among them were guest speaker Councillor Barbara Rass from the City of Cape Town, His Excellency High Commissioner Aaron Messelaar, Chief Mbombi Mazinyo from the South African Religious Forum (SARF) and Prabhu Medhavi Das from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) Cape Town. On 29 December 2017, 27-year-old Ji-in Gu was killed while being held captive at a secluded recreational lodge in Hwasun, South Korea.

She was bound and gagged by her parents, an act which led to her being suffocated to death. Her parents were held responsible for her death but the real culprits behind the murder were the pastors from the Christian Council of Korea (CCK). The CCK pastors use brutal methods to indoctrinate victims, who are mostly young women, through abduction and confinement. The pastors receive money from the parents in order to convert the child into the parent’s desired denomination.

Since her untimely death, Ms Gu’s life has been a testimony to the gross violation of human rights and religious freedom in South Korea by coercively converting people from one Christian denomination to another. In a short speech delivered Medhavi Das shared that the freedom to choose one’s religion is a basic human right that every constitution in the world should adhere to.

“The freedom to choose one’s religion is a basic human right I think in every constitution in the world that wants you to be free. And in a country like South Korea, where one thinks there is rule of law and a constitution, there should be that freedom.” Medhavi also added: “[The CCK] has missed the real goal of religion. It is something that is offered to God. The love that we have is what we freely give. That is what religion is. That love is being stopped as soon as that freedom is not allowed. They are doing the world a disservice.”

Ms Gu who had in July 2016 escaped confinement at a Catholic abbey in the city of Jangseong for 40 days had been living in constant fear of being kidnapped again and could no longer trust her family who had colluded with the pastors of the CCK to kidnap her.

This is just one example of atrocities of this nature happening all over Korea and in many parts of the world. The death of Ji-in Gu escalated from a family matter to a national issue, with more than 120,000 people gathering in Seoul and other major cities outside of South Korea to protest against coercive conversion and fight for religious freedom and the protection of the universal human right to choose one’s religious beliefs without being persecuted for it.

The HAC wants to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and whose human rights have been violated by powerful organisations and people who abuse their authority for monetary gain. By commemorating the young life lost in Ji-in Gu, the HAC would like to honour what Ms Gu wrote: “Please help innocent people by legislating a new law that does not discriminate against religions.”

In South Africa and the rest of Africa there are people at risk of persecution for their faith as well. By hosting this memorial the HAC aims to create awareness and unite people from all religions, denominations and backgrounds to stand against these human rights violations, in any shape or form, as perpetrated by organisations like the CCK in South Korea. The HAC believes that the public should be aware of what is happening worldwide in order to be watchful and careful for similar activities in South Africa and ask the public to join hands and be united against these crimes against humanity.

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