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Between disasters and religion (KOR)

Mar 20,2020
LEE GA-YOUNG
The author is the head of the national team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In the summer of 2014, I could not keep my eyes off a news story. The fingerprints and DNA analysis of a body found a month before turned out to be former Semo Group Chairman Yu Byeong-eon. A pair of luxury shoes and a jacket testified to the last moments of Yu.

Shortly before the body was found, I visited the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office every day for two months and watched the prosecutors find Yu. While the search was in progress, Yu was already dead. The investigation into Yu and the salvation cult led by him ended fruitlessly. The prosecution’s investigation of Yu, who was the owner of Cheonghaejin Marine, which operated the Sewol ferry, was a “card” aimed to please the public. But the outcome was pitiful.

In the spring of 2020, Korea is at a standstill. The Covid-19 coronavirus has shocked not just Korea but the entire world. People can no longer visit Japan, which I used to frequent on weekends, and cannot even dream about going to Europe.

The spread of the new coronavirus was not serious in the initial stages, but it explosively grew just as the government sent a signal that things were going well. The ruling Democratic Party felt that the public sentiment was aggravated before the April 15 parliamentary elections. So it must have thought that the mass infection of the Shincheonji followers may be a good card to change people’s minds. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae advocated coercive investigation into the religious sect which the ruling party supported.

Six years after the Sewol Ferry tragedy, prosecutors are different. The ruling power wants to use its sword when it needs it — and the sword has worked so far. But the prosecution’s investigation of the Shincheonji cult did not go well.

Prosecutors learn from their predecessors. They know from experience that they don’t have any justifications to investigate the church. The ruling party and some local governments claimed that the church submitted a false list of its followers to the prosecution. But that was not true, according to prosecutors’ forensic analysis. When all efforts should be focused on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, prosecutors may have been busy investigating the sect’s head Lee Man-hee. If that’s true, chaos would have been amplified in many ways.

In these sensitive times, the allegations and suspicions over the mother-in-law of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, which started when he got married, are resurfacing. They should be addressed by principle. Am I jumping to the conclusion that the ruling party is making an offensive against Yoon for being passive about investigating the church?