Honouring Ji-In Gu: shedding light on coercive conversion, violation of religious freedom, human rights in South Korea

Hundreds gathered in Cape Town yesterday to show their support for the religious freedom of all citizens and to honour the late Miss Ji-in Gu, who was kidnapped and killed in South Korea on the 29th of December 2017 as a result of coercive conversion.

Gu was the victim of coercive conversion, a programme created by pastors of the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) that aims to convert the religious beliefs of its targets. According to the Human Rights Association for the Victims of Coercive Conversion Programs (HAC), these pastors engage in criminal acts such as kidnapping, captivity, and assault towards those who refuse to be converted against their will after charging families of the victims large sums of money in order to perform these ‘conversions.’

The memorial service proceedings began with a moment of silence for those who had lost their lives due to coercive conversion programmes, followed by representative prayers by His Excellency High Commissioner Aaron Messelaar, Chief Mbombi Mazinyo from the South African Religious Forum (SARF), and Moulana Shuaib Appleby of the Muslim Judicial Council.

In her address, HAC representative, Siyabuka Tunyiswa, said the HAC’s research shows that 147 lives have been lost due to coercive conversion programmes so far.

“It would be rare to find such widespread, forceful conversion to the point of death in any Christian churches throughout the world,” said Tunyiswa.

Last year the HAC circulated a petition calling for the South Korean government to eradicate coercive conversion programmes. The petition gathered such extensive support that it was signed by more than 1,000,000 people across the globe.

The HAC fears that the CCK pastors will continue to violate the citizens’ right to freedom of religion through these programs due to the fact that there is currently no law against such practices.

Councillor Barbara Ras from the City of Cape Town challenged those in attendance to be ambassadors for human rights so that memorial services such as Gu’s would not become common occurrences.

“In future, we can prevent it… by being actively involved and say that laws must be changed,” said Ras.

She pleaded with the public to put pressure on governments globally to endorse and pass the Peace Charter as a law. Ras has dealt with similar cases in her line of work where women and children’s rights are violated.

“How many others must become victims before we make our voices heard?” she asked. “If we stand tall and we want to have that peace of mind, let’s do something about it.”

In South Africa there are people at risk of persecution for their faith as well. By hosting the memorial the HAC hopes 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.

The special guests were invited to lay flowers and share in a moment of silence to honour Gu which was followed by a performance by the Youth for Peace Choir and tribute by Prabhu Medhavi Das from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON).

“People should have freedom to adopt a religion of their choice. So many persons are uninterested in religion, at least the persons who appreciate the value of religion, they should be free to select, practice, and follow that religion,” he said.