Memorial held for woman forced to convert

By Staff Writer Time of article published Mar 7, 2018

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The International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG) held several memorial services across southern Africa at the weekend in honour of the late Ji-In Gu - a young South Korean woman found dead after her parents allegedly suffocated her while forcing her to participate in a religious conversion programme, according to the organisation.

The memorial was attended by over 500 members of IWPG who have continued to petition for the Korean government to enact a special law against coercive conversion programmes since her death last December.

The memorial service took place 49 days after Gu’s death which is a Korean tradition and was held in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Harare, Zimbabwe, as well as in Windhoek, Namibia. On January 28, 120 000 South Koreans also protested in major cities against forced conversion “education” by Christian pastors.

The Association of Victims of Coercive Conversion Programmes (AVCCP), a Korean-based NGO raising awareness around human rights violations which emanate from religious conflicts called for the punishment of Christian pastors who hold “consultations” for money and encourage families to kidnap their relatives of different religious beliefs. Family members who have different religious orientations were reportedly kidnapped and forced to enter a conversion programme.

The Coercive Conversion Programme refers to the illegal activity in which physical and mental violence is committed using “counter-cult counselling” as an excuse. The usual participants of the programme are members of new religious denominations who do not belong to the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) or other traditional denominations.

Gu was allegedly kidnapped and confined in a pension room and found dead after she was allegedly suffocated by her parents. Before her untimely death, she wrote a letter of petition to the Korean president urging for the punishment of the Coercive Conversion Pastors. She wrote: “When I was captured and forced to undergo conversion education for 44 days, I was so scared that I would be captured again, that I pleaded with the president that I too wanted to enjoy the freedom of religion written about in the constitution of the Republic of Korea.”

AVCCP said the official position of the Protestant churches in South Korea is that complaints regarding coercive conversions are unfounded. They claim that these consultations on “cult issues” are carried out voluntarily at the request of the family members of the victims and with the consent of the victims. However, victims report that the “conversion education agreements” are written by force while they are under confinement.

Locally the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Rights has been advocating for a legal framework that governs self-regulation of churches and it is going to approach the Constitutional Court for a declaratory order on the matter.

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