S. Korean Anglicans Launch Fast in Protest Over Sanctuary Violation
The leaders of South Korea’s Anglican Church began a hunger strike Saturday to draw public attention to the violation of their principal sanctuary here, which was attacked last Thursday by riot police throwing tear gas and wielding clubs in pursuit of student demonstrators.
They said they would continue fasting indefinitely as a gesture of protest against the government of President Chun Doo Hwan.
The police raid, which left windows shattered in Seoul’s Anglican Cathedral and its grounds strewn with remains of tear-gas canisters, was led by a South Korean convict working undercover for police and posing as a foreign journalist, a church spokesman said Saturday night.
Posed as Times Correspondent
In a signed statement to Anglican priests, which he later confirmed in an interview, convicted smuggler Chun Yung Il said that he had an armband and a helmet made to identify himself as a Los Angeles Times correspondent after police promised not to jail him if he agreed to infiltrate opposition organizations.
Police told him to use as a cover the identity of a foreign correspondent, Chun Yung Il said.
It was the first report of an undercover police operative impersonating a foreign journalist during South Korea’s current political upheaval, but last month, the Seoul Foreign Correspondents Club, fearing such a move might be made, rejected the use of government-issued identification armbands and issued armbands of its own.
Chun Yung Il, who has taken refuge in the church, according to priests, told The Times at the cathedral that he began working for the police in April. He said he was ordered by officers at Seoul’s Chung Ryang Li police station to infiltrate the cathedral grounds and point out “subversive students” and other demonstrators during last Thursday’s huge downtown funeral rally for slain student Lee Han Yol.
Displaying the counterfeit armband and helmet in the Anglican bishop’s residence Saturday night, one of the priests taking part in the hunger strike said that the church had protested to the authorities both Chun’s infiltration and the police raid on the cathedral.
“Two things unprecedented in Korean church history happened on Thursday,” the priest said, asking not to be identified by name. “First, they sent in a police agent posing as a foreign correspondent--this has never happened before. And never before has a church been raided with the strength and violence as they did last Thursday.
“Not since the Korean War has a church been invaded by the government,” the priest continued. “The only parallel is the Communist Army of North Korea, which destroyed our churches in the 1950s.”
The priest said that more than 200 riot police attacked the cathedral Thursday afternoon after using tear gas to break up a crowd of more than 200,000 that had gathered outside Seoul’s City Hall to protest the death of Lee. The 21-year-old Yonsei University sophomore died last week of injuries suffered when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister during an anti-government demonstration June 9.
Police raided the cathedral, located a few hundred yards from city hall, after scores of students fleeing from tear gas took refuge there. The raid was the first of its kind in the recent memory of many Seoul residents, but it was eclipsed by the dimension of the public protest that accompanied Lee’s funeral and received little publicity at the time.
‘Indefinite Hunger Strike’
To draw attention to the raid, 22 Anglican clergymen began an “indefinite hunger strike” inside the cathedral’s bishop’s residence, which was still littered Saturday with pieces of tear-gas canisters and broken glass. Outside, church members displayed large shards of canisters found on the grounds. Handwritten signs over shattered windows declared, “This glass was broken by stones thrown by riot police.”
In addition, priests broadcast statements announcing their protest through a public-address system mounted in the cathedral’s bell tower in the heart of downtown Seoul.
A sign painted in red near the door of the bishop’s residence declared, “This sacred place was raided by the boots of riot police.”
“We consider this an invasion of the church by army boots and an attack against the Anglican Community throughout the world,” one of the fasting priests said. He added that all Anglican services and prayer meetings here will be suspended until Chairman Roh Tae Woo of the Democratic Justice Party apologizes personally to the Church and the government dismisses the police officers responsible for the raid.
“There was no justifiable reason why the police acted this way,” the priest said. “No one was throwing stones or firebombs from in here. They just came in, breaking windows, beating students with iron pipes and kicking them brutally with their boots. This sacred church has been bloodied.”
There are only 50,000 Anglicans in South Korea, but the fasting priests said Saturday that all Christian denominations and several Buddhist leaders have expressed support for their protest, adding that it marks “a pan-religious campaign against this government.”
The South Korean Christian community had lately grown more militant in its protests against human rights violations under President Chun’s military-dominated administration. Most of the protests, though, had ended after Roh and President Chun announced their acceptance of all of the political opposition’s major demands for reform and announced “a new epoch of democracy” for the nation.
In recent days, however, church leaders have stepped up protest activities.
On Saturday, Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party, and his political ally, Kim Dae Jung, demanded that the government remove what they called “hooligans” who have been occupying the Cheil Presbyterian Church, where a leading critic of the government, the Rev. Park Hyung Kyu, is minister. Occupation of the church, they said, has prevented Park, who was freed from jail Wednesday, from conducting services.
Last Wednesday night, an estimated 100 combat police raided a building housing the Korean National Council of Churches after a riot policeman “defected” to the opposition and holed up in the building’s human rights office, the council said.
In a Friday newsletter, council leaders identified the “defector,” police Cpl. Yang Seung Kyun, as a member of the riot squad’s Mobile Task Force. He was shown in a photograph wearing a headband declaring, “I refuse to be a crony of a dictatorship.”
The newsletter quoted Yang as being skeptical about the regime’s promises of major democratic reforms.
Skepticism was also expressed at Anglican Church headquarters Saturday.
“We have to interpret the June 29 announcement (of reforms) as a trick meant to deceive the people,” one of the hunger-striking priests said. “We seriously doubt the sincerity of the government.”
Another fasting priest declared, “We Korean people were overjoyed when we heard Roh’s statement (first announcing the reforms). But he had to make this statement because he was pushed into544499813now are that they (the government) do not intend to bring democracy to the people of this country.”
The priests said that they will be joined in their fasting next week by clergymen from throughout the nation.
The Anglicans then introduced the man they identified as Chun Yung Il, the police agent who they said had pretended to be a Times correspondent to gain entry to the cathedral grounds Thursday.
Chun Yung Il said that he was convicted two years ago on charges of smuggling military goods out of a camp post exchange but that police promised to let him go free if he worked undercover for them.
“The police told me that I should pretend I was a foreign correspondent and that I could attend student rallies on the campuses and in churches,” Chun said through an interpreter.
He said that he had an armband and crash helmet made at a local shop for 6,500 won (about $80). Asked why he chose the Los Angeles Times, Chun said, “It just came into my mind.”
Many South Korean student and opposition groups have long believed that the government’s intelligence police use undercover operatives posing as journalists or students, but Chun’s was the first publicly reported case of its happening.
A church spokesman said that several priests caught Chun in the act of signaling riot squads outside the cathedral grounds to launch tear-gas canisters after student demonstrators took refuge there.
“We consider this a very dangerous precedent,” the spokesman said.
During the interview at the bishop’s residence, Chun said he is now taking refuge inside the cathedral after signing a confession for the priests. “They (the police) would certainly put me in jail now--or worse,” he said.