Shincheonji Church Leaders Not Guilty of Obstructing COVID-19 Outbreak Investigations

Eight leaders of Shincheonji Church were found innocent of violating the Infectious Disease Prevention Act after a localized COVID-19 outbreak in the Daegu church location.

DAEGU, KOREA, February 05, 2021 /24-7PressRelease/ -- On February 3rd, eight leaders of Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea were found not guilty of obstructing epidemiological investigations of Korean officials after a localized COVID-19 outbreak occurred in a Daegu church location.

The Shincheonji leaders appeared in court to determine the verdict of violating the Infectious Disease Prevention Act. The Act allows governmental officials to establish a surveillance system to prevent and control the spread of infectious disease. This surveillance was enacted in mid-February of 2020 when a COVID-19 outbreak occurred in Shincheonji Church in Daegu.

In early February 2020, "Patient 31", a Shincheonji member and an unknowing, asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, attended an in-person worship service, which the Korean government had deemed safe at the time. Shortly after, it was found that about 5,000 Shincheonji members of the Daegu church were COVID-19 positive. Shincheonji immediately halted all in-person worship services and meetings. Because of the localized outbreak, Korean officials launched an investigation into the church's COVID-19 response by requesting lists of members' personal information. Requested lists of nearly 300,000 members were submitted, even those of other, non-infected church locations, including abroad. Officials deemed the lists inaccurate and incomplete and arrested Shincheonji Chairman Man Hee Lee and other Daegu church leaders who were under scrutiny during the investigation.

Early in the investigation, portions of the member lists were leaked, causing incidents of human rights violations on Shincheonji members who were discovered by their families and acquaintances. Some members reported being ostracized by their families, losing their jobs or even evicted from their homes. Despite this, Shincheonji members who had recovered from the virus came together and donated nearly 4,000 units of convalescent blood plasma for COVID-19 vaccine and cure research spanning three donation periods from July to December 2020. The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters' Deputy Director said about the donation drives: "We are grateful for the active participation of Shincheonji and for the cooperation of the City of Daegu and the Korean Red Cross."

Chairman Lee was released from custody in mid-January after being found not guilty of breaking the Infectious Disease Prevention Act. The same verdicts for the eight leaders come just a few weeks later. Shincheonji is still holding all services online to prevent any COVID-19 transmission among members.

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