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Clergy demand release of protesters

Detained clergymen were 'exercising basic rights' during demonstration

Police take a Jeju island protester into custody Police take a Jeju island protester into custody
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • March 13, 2012
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Religious leaders have called on authorities to release two clergymen arrested on suspicion of breaking into the office of a construction company overseeing the building of a disputed naval base during a protest on Jeju island.
Bishop Matthias Ri Iong-hoon of Suwon, president of the Korean Bishops’ Conference’s Committee for Justice and Peace, said yesterday that the arrests were a violation of clergymen’s rights.
“The arrested clergymen were using their basic rights of resistance for the sake of justice,” he said, adding that the state had used “every method of manipulation and illegality for construction of the naval base.”
The prosecutor's office in Jeju in a statement today denied any suppression of rights in the case, which was a legal matter and not an attempt to suppress religious freedom or any other rights.
The statement added that the clergymen were arrested for using cutting tools to illegally dismantle a fence enclosing the construction office on March 9.
Jeju district court issued arrest warrants on March 11 for Jesuit Father Joseph Kim Jeong-uk and Protestant Reverend Lee Jeong-hun.
The company’s decision to resume work on the naval base on March 7 by blasting a coastal rock formation sparked new protests over the project, which has divided religious and political leaders and evoked concerns from environmental groups over the environmental impact of the base.
The National Council of Churches in Korea said in a statement that the arrested clergymen “broke into the scene of blasting of the coastal outcrop of rock in order to practice their faith [and] to protect peace and life.”
Reverend Kim Young-ju, secretary general of the council, said in the statement that the clergymen should be released immediately and said the naval base project “has driven the whole of society into conflict.”
Meanwhile, police yesterday arrested 16 activists, including three diocesan priests, for trespassing on the construction site in a bid to block additional blasting by the company.

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