Daegu court acquits 8 Shincheonji officials of charges

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Daegu court acquits 8 Shincheonji officials of charges

The Daegu District Court on Wednesday acquitted eight Shincheonji church officials of charges including impeding an epidemiological survey and obstructing health authorities' efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
 
The church, called Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, emerged as the epicenter of a Covid-19 outbreak last February.
 
Prosecutors indicted the eight officials from the religious group after Daegu city officials filed a criminal complaint accusing the church of deliberately omitting 133 names from the list of worshipers demanded by the city for its epidemiological survey.
 
Wednesday’s ruling comes less than a month after the Suwon District Court acquitted the Shincheonji church’s founder, Lee Man-hee, 89, of the same charge of impeding an epidemiological survey. Lee was, however, convicted of other charges including embezzlement, receiving a suspended three-year prison sentence.
 
Presiding Judge Kim Sang-yoon said in the ruling, “We cannot punish someone by law for having submit an incomplete list of worshipers when that list was part of the preparatory stage for an epidemiological survey, rather than constituting the epidemiological survey itself, as designated by the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act and pursuant regulations.”
 
Kim added, “It is difficult to regard non-compliance with an information-sharing request as tantamount to obstruction of the performance of official duties, when the demand for a full list of worshipers was part of the preparatory stage for disease control efforts, and not constituting disease control itself.”
 
Prosecutors sought a three-year prison sentence for one of the Shincheonji officials, sentences ranging from two years to one and a half years for four church officials, and one-year sentences for the other three officials who were charged.
 
The outbreak of the virus among Shincheonji’s worshipers in Daegu last February and March briefly made Korea the country with the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak outside China. According to government data, 5,213 of the country’s 78,000 cases thus far have been found among the church's members and their contacts.
 
The Shincheonji church faced intense scrutiny and criticism from the public during the outbreak, prompting it's leader Lee to issue a public apology at a press conference held in front of his home last March.
 
BY MICHAEL LEE   [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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