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Sarang Jeil Church defies restrictions

Pastor accused of violating ban on rallies last year

Church lawyers block the path of officials from Seongbuk-gu Office who went to the church on Sunday to monitor compliance with quarantine rules. (Yonhap)
Church lawyers block the path of officials from Seongbuk-gu Office who went to the church on Sunday to monitor compliance with quarantine rules. (Yonhap)


Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul is again raising concerns about COVID-19 by forging ahead with face-to-face worship services and announcing a large-scale rally. Its leader, the Rev. Jeon Kwang-hoon, was indicted on charges of violating a ban on rallies in connection with a similar event last year.

Since the implementation of tough restrictions in the Greater Seoul area July 12, the church has conducted four face-to-face worship services. Under the current quarantine rules, only 19 people are allowed to attend a religious service at any one time.

On Sunday, Sarang Jeil Church held face-to-face worship from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with 280 people in attendance.

When police and officials from Seongbuk-gu and Seoul City tried to enter the church to inspect the site and check for quarantine violations, church members and their legal representatives yelled at them and blocked the entrance, according to local media outlets.

The Seongbuk-gu Office fined the church 3 million won ($2,620) and is seeking to close it down under the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act. It plans to hold a hearing on the matter this week.

In protest, Jeon, who is also the head of the National Revolutionary Party, announced a large outdoor rally on Sunday, the Liberation Day holiday. It is expected to attract 10 million people.

The National Revolutionary Party is a conservative Christian party that supports former President Park Geun-hye, who is serving a prison sentence for corruption and bribery.

“We have a plan for the Aug. 15 event,” Jeon said Saturday on YouTube. “We will have an event where 10 million people depart from Seoul Station and go around City Hall.”

Calling it “a one-man protest that gathers 10 million for the impeachment of Moon Jae-in,” the organizers plan to start the rally Saturday at 6 a.m. and continue protesting for three days.

Participants are to stay 2 meters apart as they leave Seoul Station with picket signs and return after visiting Namdaemun Market, City Hall and Donghwa Duty Free Shop, the church said.

Koo Ju-wa, spokesman for the National Revolutionary Party, said in another YouTube video, “If one-man protests are burdensome, let’s take a walk.”

Koo added, “Anyone can freely walk Gwanghwamun and Cheong Wa Dae. There is no need to be arrested or investigated for taking a walk.”

Jeon, who held a similar National Liberation Day rally last year, now faces trial in connection with that rally.

Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted the pastor Friday without detention on charges of violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act and the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act.

Pastor Jeon is accused of holding a rally near Gwanghwamun Station on Aug. 15 last year amid an infection surge led by the church. The protesters were demanding the resignation of President Moon Jae-in.



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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