On January 9, 2018, a burning candlelight was snuffed out in Hwasun County, South Korea. That candlelight was 25 year old Gu Ji In, a young woman who was kidnapped, held captive for over a week, and murdered at the hands of Christian pastors participating in the coercive conversion program. What crime could she have committed that would lead to such a horrendous fate? She was only guilty of having a different religion than her family. Not only is this incident a tragedy for Ms. Gu Ji In’s loved ones, but the fact that the coercive conversion pastors have not been charged and that those programs still operate today demonstrates a gross miscarriage of justice and human rights. In a constitutional democracy like South Korea, religious freedom is guaranteed, so why is it that still one year after Ms. Gu Ji In’s death, there is no justice?
What is Coercive Conversion?
Coercive conversion is the illegal activity of mental, physical, and emotional violence enacted against an individual in order to coerce them into changing their religious affiliation. This program often disguises itself as one that counteracts cults but in reality, it mainly targets new denominations that are not a part of the CCK (Christian Council of Korea) or other “traditional” denominations. By claiming they fight against cult religions, the coercive conversion pastors successfully alienate family members from each other, build distrust, and often cause violence between them, much like what happened with Ms. Gu Ji In. In the past year there have been 147 documented victims of coercive conversion and many more that have not been accounted for. This continues to happen because the pastors participating in the coercive conversion programs never face legal repercussions. This, too, was the case for Ms. Gu Ji In. Before her death in January 2018, Ms. Gu had been kidnapped again on a prior occasion, being held captive for 44 days from July 23rd, 2016 to September 4th, 2016. She escaped with her life at that time and wrote to the Blue House and other Korean government agencies and sectors in society to publicize her experience and expose the deeds of those running the coercive conversion programs. However, her pleas for change, protection, and justice fell on deaf ears and now her life is gone.
This is not something that we should simply sit still about. Ms. Gu Ji In died as a result of the coercive conversion programs and as a result of her letters and experiences (and those of other victims as well) not being taken as a priority. How many more people have to be kidnapped and killed before the coercive conversion program is demolished once and for all? How many more blossoming flowers have to be crushed under the foot of oppression before justice can be achieved? The Human Rights Association for Victims of Coercive Conversion (HAC) has been holding campaigns all over the world, encouraging government leaders domestically and internationally to take action against the corrupt coercive conversion program and all of its practitioners. As messengers of peace, we must rally with HAC to ensure that religious freedom and human rights will prevail. If this coercive conversion program can happen in the constitutional democracy that is the Republic of Korea, it can very well happen anywhere else. Let us fight the good fight until the coercive conversion programs are brought to an end. Let us remain strong and run forward to declare universal human rights and freedom of religion for every person. Let us never forget Ms. Gu Ji In.
Learn more at endcoerciveconversion.org