Solidarity in Seoul
Government should free captive Jesuit Fr Lee Young-chan
In a letter from jail, John Lee Young-chan, a Korean Jesuit priest, decried increasing military tensions in Northeast Asia and asked South Korea and other nations to “join in solidarity, not inciting war but in ameliorating the situation and in leading toward a reduction in weapons.”
Father Lee Young-chan was arrested in October while protesting the use of excessive force against a female activist who had attempted – with more than 300 others in recent months, including several Jesuit priests – to protest nonviolently the construction of a Korean naval base on Jeju Island. He is currently imprisoned without bail as he awaits trial.
“I pray that Jeju may avoid becoming a shrimp caught in a whale fight” between China and the United States, “but rather prevent the whale fight and become a place brimming with life and peace,” he wrote.
The Jeju naval base is proposed to become home to a fleet of 20 South Korean warships, set to patrol the sea between China and Japan. The justice and peace committee of the South Korean bishops’ conference has released a statement opposing construction of the new base and demanding the immediate release of Father Lee Young-chan.
The naval base “can only increase the sense of military tension…and thereby instigate a crisis,” wrote Bishop Matthias Ri Iong-hoon, who also expressed concern that “construction is destroying the coastal ecosystem.”
The United States, which operates more than a dozen military bases in Japan and South Korea, is partly responsible for this pattern of military aggression in the region, in which North Korea is also complicit. All sides must take meaningful steps to reduce the tension.
“Why must there be more battleships and aircraft carriers?” asked Francis Mun-su Park, SJ, director of the Jesuit Research Center for Advocacy and Solidarity in Seoul. “There should be more cultural exchange and efforts for peace.”
As a first step, the South Korean government should immediately release Father Lee Young-chan and stop base construction.
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