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South Korea: Pro-government violence enters Buddhist temples

By Lee Seung-joon, The Hankyoreh, Dec 24, 2010

Confusion remains over whether the group was sent by the Lee administration

Seoul, South Korea -- It has belatedly emerged that members of conservative groups like the Korean Disabled Veterans Association for Agent Orange entered Jogye Temple during services and engaged in acts of violence like cursing at believers and kicking over tables. The Buddhist community has demanded an apology, calling the incident an act of religious discrimination by pro-government groups.

During a press conference in front of the Iljumun Gate of Jogye Temple in the Gyeonji neighborhood of Seoul on Thursday, about 20 monks and believers, including the Venerable Seongjin, the head of Jogye Temple’s administrative bureau, pressed for the punishment of the members of the pro-government groups that engaged in violence and an apology from the Lee Myung-bak administration for discriminating against the Buddhist community and refusing to cooperate.

According to the Jogye Temple, the incident took place Wednesday evening, when some 3,000 believers were gathered for a Buddhist service to protest the Lee Myung-bak government’s decision to push ahead with the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project and the budgetary cuts in the temple stay budget. Some 24 head temples and 3,000 subordinate temples held the service at the same time.

The Jogye Temple said when the service was about to finish, around seven or eight men in military uniforms stormed the precinct yelling “Commie bitches” and “Bring a gun! I’m going to shoot them all.” They also kicked over tables. When the believers and leaders protested, they ran across to the street, where they joined about 30 members of conservative groups like Right Korea and Green Alliance, who used a loudspeaker to criticize the Jogye Temple and the monks before police ordered them to disperse about 10 minutes later.

During the press conference, Jogye Temple officials said, “We cannot repress our agony that people in military uniforms and military boots used violence in the middle of the day while believers were holding a ‘108 Bow Purification Ceremony to Protect the National Culture,’ which began on Dec. 14, in order to correct the mistaken view that the friction between the government and Buddhism was due to the reduction of the temple stay budget.”

Jogye officials then said a member of one of the conservative groups said they were mobilized by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, and if this is true, they would press the ministry and government to take responsibility. Jogye Temple officials said the conservative groups’ acts of violence took place while suspicions regarding the the Oct. 27 Incident -when the Chun Doo-hwan government repressed the Buddhist community in 1980 in the name of purifying Buddhism - have yet to dissipate. It added that they are suspicious of the sincerity of the Lee administration, which mobilizes even pro-government groups to slander Buddhism and divide the public.

Regarding this, an official from the Korean Disabled Veterans Association for Agent Orange said they identified themselves as a “veterans group,” but Jogye Temple mistook this for “the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.” He explained that since the Jogye Order was criticizing the government, they were trying to go inside to talk, but the incident took place when they were blocked by the Buddhists. The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said the press conference by right-wing groups at Jogye Temple took place in accordance with decisions made by the groups themselves and had nothing to do with the ministry.

Meanwhile, Seoul Jongno Police said they plan to investigate when they figure out what took place.

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