Police take protesters including Reverend Lee Jeong-hun (middle) into a police station
Three religious leaders were arrested yesterday on suspicion of breaking into the office of a construction company in charge of building a naval base on Jeju island that has spurred months of protests.
Jeju district court issued arrest warrants for Jesuit Father Joseph Kim Jeong-uk and two Protestants, Reverend Lee Jeong-hun and Rev Kim Hong-sul, after a fence enclosing the construction site was damaged on March 9.
The arrest warrant against Rev Kim has since been revoked and he has been released from custody.
Jesuit Fr John Lee Young-chan, who protested today against the arrests in front of the construction office, said, “Father Kim and Reverend Lee are now in police detention and they will be moved to a jail after seven or eight days.”
Rev Kim said he did not know why he was released but suggested that it might be the result of “a hidden political purpose.”
“Worrying that there would be more protests if the court issued arrest warrants for all three of us, it seems to have decided to release me,” he said.
The arrests mark the first time since 1989 that a Catholic priest has been arrested in Korea.
Fr Paul Mun Kyoo-hyun of Jeonju diocese was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison over an unauthorized trip to North Korea.
The latest round of protests over the Jeju naval base kicked off after workers began blasting on a coastal outcrop of rock on March 7, following a government-led moratorium on work at the site.
Environmental activists say the basalt rock outcrop is an ecologically important habitat for marine species.
The Ministry of National Defense has countered that Jeju island contains several such formations and that the naval base is essential to national security.
Dozens of protesters have gathered at the construction office since the clergymen’s arrest, while additional police officers have been dispatched to the site.
Fifty-six other protesters were previously detained after protests from March 6-9 but have since been released.
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