Monday, June 27, 2011

Religious leaders see forced seizure of Jeju farms as attack on life, peace & community; arrests of priests, nuns, & ministers

In 2006, during a conversation about the movement to save what is left of the spirit of the Japanese Peace Constitution, Jean Stokan of Pax Christi (the Catholic peace organization) compared the grassroots struggles of ordinary people in Asia against militaristic state encroachment to similar struggles of people living in Latin America military dictatorships during the 1980's. In both hemispheres, faith-based groups have long been at the center of movements for democracy and peace.

Christians and Buddhists have come together to challenge the abuse of state power to force construction of military bases in both Jeju Island and Okinawa. Their interfaith effort is part of a tradition dating back to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Desmond Tutu's frameworks for nonviolent action to bring about peace and social justice.

Benediction for the Life, Peace, and Community before a 100-day Korea Peace Pilgrimage that began March 1, 2011 at the Jeju April 3rd Peace Park (which memorializes the lives of tens of thousands of indigenous inhabitants killed on Jeju Island on April 3, 1947, during the South Korean government's violent repression of demonstrations calling for humane living conditions) and ended at the Demilitarized Zone.

In the following article, Claire Schaeffer-Duffy details the engagement of Catholics and other Christians opposing the South Korean government's attempts to forcibly seize and destroy the property of the indigenous farmers at Gangjeong to make way for a proposed naval base targeting China. Proceeding on base construction would destroy Gangjeong's beautiful coastline (one of most beautiful places on Jeju Island) and make a mockery of S. Korean democratic process.

The base also makes no strategic sense: the S. Korea's Ministry of National Defense stated that the base is not needed for national security. Incongruously, the South Korean government is collaborating with Beijing in developing policies to draw wealthy Chinese tourists to Jeju Island at the same time it is building this base to militarily target China.

Koreans resume hunger strikes opposing proposed naval base

by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy
The National Catholic Reporter
June 15, 2011

The gutsy and persistent campaign to oppose the construction of a South Korean naval base on Jeju Island continues.

Bruce Gagnon reports that Professor Yang Yoon-Mo, former chair of the South Korean Film Critics Association, and Sung-Hee Choi, a member of the Korean peace organization SPARK, have resumed their hunger strike in protest of the base.
Gagnon, a Maine-base peace activist and founder of Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, has been chronicling the Jeju campaign on his blog,

...Activists over the past week have daily tried to block construction at the naval base which is ongoing despite strong local opposition. Protestors have held banners, prayed, laid in front of machines at the construction site, and even gone out in inflatable rafts to demonstrate aboard ships clearing the Gangjeong coastline.

A self-governing province of South Korea, Jeju Island lies south of the Korean mainland and between China and Japan. Because of the island’s strategic location in Northeast Asia, the South Korean government wants to build a base here that will port South Korean and U.S. Aegis destroyers equipped with missile defense systems.

Jeju is a designated World Heritage site. Critics fear the base will damage the island’s unique eco-system, escalate a naval arms race in Northeast Asia, and place Jeju residents in the crosshairs of a U.S./China stand-off.

Catholic religious have been at the forefront of the no-base campaign, according to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). A quick perusal of the news agency’s reports reveal a remarkable account of Catholic leaders speaking out against militarism and environmental destruction, and speaking up for those whose voice has been ignored for the sake of national security interests [ROK officials have admitted there is no national security interest for the base, according to The Hankyoreh].

Nuns and priests have been arrested during no-base protests, some repeatedly. Priests have also gone on hunger strikes. In June 2007, the year the South Korean government announced plans to build the navy base at Gangjeon (two other villages had successfully fought locating the port in their environs), the Jeju diocese launched the Special Committee for the Island of Peace to actively oppose the port’s construction...

More recently, Jeju’s Special Committee hosted Christmas Mass at the construction site for the navy base. Bishop Peter Kang U-il of the Cheju diocese presided. Three days later, four priests, two Protestant pastors, and twenty-nine activists and villagers were arrested during a demonstration there.

In January, the Catholic Priests Association for Justice held their three-day annual plenary assembly on the island and issued a statement calling for an end to the base’s construction. UCAN reports that the statement highlighted the examples of Okinawa, Guam and Saipan as beautiful islands with military bases whose native culture declined after the establishment of military bases. There were more arrests of priests later that month.

Catholic involvement in the Jeju conflict prompted the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCKK) to join the no-base campaign in May. Last week representatives of hundreds of civic and religious leaders in South Korea held a press conference in Seoul to express their solidarity with the residents of Gangjeong. Among those present was Reverend Kim Young-ju, secretary general of the NCCK.

Shortly after his release for one of his arrests during a no-base demonstration, Fr. John Ko Byeong-soo, chair of Jeju diocese’s Special Committee for the Island of Peace, told UCAN that he felt obliged to continue the anti-base campaign “as we need to follow Catholic teaching to be a peacemakers . . . Since the Gangjeong villagers have decided to maintain their opposition to the plan, we will accompany the people to the end.”
Read the entire article here.

On June 19, Sung-Hee Choi stopped her most recent 10-day fast. Read her letter from jail at her blog.

For background on the Korean Peninsula interfaith peace pilgrimage, see "In Solidarity with the Gangjeong Villagers of Jeju Island and the Peace Pilgrims for Life, Peace, and Community in the Korean Peninsula" (Reverend Jeon of the Life & Peace Fellowship said, “Our organization opposes those things related to war. We oppose the naval base plan (in Jeju Island) with the thought that the peace in the Korean peninsula and North East Asia will be threatened if it is built on Jeju Island. “We are walking with our praying hearts.”), TTT (March 2, 2011)

Action suggestions in support of residents of Jeju Island:

• SPARK and Pax Christi Int: Call for Solidarity & Action for Gangjeong Village & Sea, Jeju Island, South Korea
• Please contact the Embassy of South Korea in your country and ask them to stop the construction of the Navy base for U.S. warships on Jeju Island.

• Organize a prayer vigil.

• Write a letter of solidarity to Bishop Peter Kan-U-Il, president of the Bishops Conference of South Korea. e-mail:

For information, you can contact Regina Pyon in Korea:

Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK) is a member organisation of Pax Christi International

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