The Jesuits in Korea write: "As we look towards Christmas and the hope the birth of Jesus brought us, we remember that in Korea, a Jesuit will be spending his Christmas in prison for standing up for justice."
Korean Jesuit Fr Lee Young-chan and five other peace activists were detained by the police on 24 October. He had been protesting the excessive force used by the police in detaining a woman activist, and when the police manhandled him, they claimed his resistance amounted to violence. On 26 October, the court upheld his arrest and denied him bail. His trial is ongoing.
Fr Lee is the second Jesuit to be imprisoned this year in connection with opposition to the construction of a naval base at Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island. In April, Fr Joseph Kim Chong-uk SJ was imprisoned for opposing and attempting to hinder the construction. Fr Kim has since been released.
The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Korea and the Korean Province have both issued statements calling for the immediate release of Fr Lee and the other peace activists, and the end of the authorities’ use of violence in Jeju.
The Korean Province also promised continued material and emotional support to the Jesuits engaged in the action in Jeju, saying “With the understanding that this problem is international in scope we will spread awareness of it and join in close solidarity with the Jesuits of North America and also to our own region, the Jesuits of the Asia Pacific.”
In a letter Fr Lee managed to send from prison on November 4, he cites St Paul saying: “’For to you has been granted for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him. ‘(Phi1, 27-29) I give thanks that at least in a little way I have been granted the happiness and special favour to directly experience what these words say.”
He continued: “The US and China have been faulting each other while turning NE Asia into a powder keg. They are blinded by their hegemony and nationalism and are trying to put each other down. In response, Korea and other nations must join in solidarity, not in inciting war but in ameliorating the situation and in leading toward a reduction in weapons.
“I pray that Jeju may avoid becoming a shrimp caught in a whale fight, but rather prevent the whale fight and become a place brimming with life and peace, an island spreading God’s peace for all peoples to all the world.”
The events in Jeju take place at a critical time for peace in northeast Asia. The ruling party in South Korea has taken a hard line toward North Korea and desires a stronger military to boost national security. The planned naval base on Jeju Island, opening out directly into the East China Sea, will enable increased projection of South Korean naval power. With South Korea’s close alliance with the United States, the naval base could be part of the US’ efforts to encircle China with its military might.
Opposition party lawmakers in South Korea have been critical of the planned naval base and have gained enough agreement for Congress to restrict the budget for this year’s construction. Hopes that the naval base could see a re-examination in 2013 look to be dashed with the ruling party winning the recent presidential election. Construction has been going on 24 hours a day to make up for delays caused by opposition and typhoons. During this time of rapid construction, police presence has been strengthened and their use of violence has increased.
Source: Ecology Social Justice & Ecology Korea