At 1:20 am on August 1 Chairman Man Hee Lee, the founder of Heavenly Culture World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) and leader of religious movement Shincheonji, was arrested amid investigations pinning the blame for South Korea's Covid-19 outbreak on his church.
This came after holding a 10-hour arrest warrant hearing regarding five Shincheonji officials for allegedly violating South Korea’s Infectious Disease Control Act and obstructing the government's efforts to contain the outbreak in February and March.
Before this ruling, Chairman Lee was interrogated in a warrant hearing that lasted eight and a half hours. This after he had previously availed himself to authorities for questioning.
Shincheonji issued a statement vowing to unveil the truth in upcoming court hearings saying that "The court's issuing an arrest warrant doesn't mean a guilty verdict”.
The church also added that Chairman Lee had emphasized the importance of quarantine and encouraged the church members to cooperate with the authorities.
"[The Chairman] only expressed concern over the excessive demand for personal information from authorities and never ordered the omission of the list to prevent quarantine. The lawyers fully explained this to the court within the scope of the facts, but, regrettably, an arrest warrant has been issued,” it said.
Religious scholars from leading universities in Europe and the Americas such as the Center for Studies on New Religions have described the turn of events as a “breach of religious liberty” and are protesting against the arrest of the church leader.
Various religious leaders and civil society from across the world have vowed to continue to promote all the appropriate initiatives to react against an “attempt to destroy a religious movement”.
At the moment, online petitions are pouring in pleading with the South Korean government to drop the charges against Chairman Lee and his church members.