Stop political interventionOn Thursday, the Moon Jae-in administration added Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang, to a list of “special infectious disease management areas” along with Daegu and Cheongdo County in North Gyeongsang. As the number of people confirmed infected with the novel coronavirus, officially named Covid-19, has exceeded 5,000, the Central Disaster Management Headquarters (CDMH) conducted an administrative inspection of the headquarters of the Shincheonji church in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi. The CDMH said it took the action after some local municipalities complained about the credibility of a list of the followers of the religious sect submitted by the church. The CDMH explained that the inspection was aimed at “getting accurate information on the church for the quarantine of its members.”
But the CDMH’s explanation changed from an earlier one. In a statement Monday, it downplayed the need for search and seizure at the church, saying, “The church’s uncooperative attitude, such as its omission of related data, could not be affirmed.” The disaster management headquarters added that if it carried out a raid at the church, it could have “a negative impact on their effective quarantine” because a tough approach could force its church members into hiding. We wonder why the CDMH changed its position in just three days. Why was such a flip-flop necessary?
On Sunday and Tuesday, the Daegu Metropolitan City Police requested a warrant from the prosecution to search the church’s Daegu chapter. But the two requests were denied. The prosecution cited a lack of evidence of the church’s “arbitrary omission on the list of its followers and properties.” The prosecution also said that the police’s request for a warrant did not specify exactly what kind of obstruction the church committed in its compliance with an epidemiological study demanded from the CDMH.
Then, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae suddenly stepped in and pressured the prosecution to issue a warrant for a search and seizure operation at the church based on an unreliable public survey that showed “over 86 percent of the people support a search and seizure operation at the church.” Earlier, she openly pressured the prosecution to start an investigation of the church in case it refuses the authorities’ requests for medical tests of church members. Minister Choo’s acts suggest political intervention in the epidemic crisis even though she is arguably responsible for the fast spread of the infections because she was reluctant to bar Chinese people from entering Korea in the initial stage of the infections.
On Sunday, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon joined the chorus by publicly demanding the prosecution led by Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl arrest the founder of the church, Lee Man-hee. But it is not appropriate for the mayor and other politicians from the ruling party to try to find a scapegoat instead of taking responsibility for the government’s poor handling of the virus crisis.
Given its accountability for the massive spread of the infections, the Shincheonji church must cooperate with public health authorities no matter what. But the government also must take responsibility for its utterly supine reaction from the start. It is the time for medical experts on the front line to raise their voices and tell us the way forward, not politicians.