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[Newsmaker] Arrested pastor sticks to mass Sunday service plan

Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon (Yonhap)
Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon (Yonhap)

Seoul police and the city government plan to block a joint worship service, slated to take place at a plaza in central Seoul on Sunday, amid concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak.

Led by a controversial pastor, who is now in police custody for violating the election law, a civic group has held street rallies opposing President Moon Jae-in for months, with some in the form of outdoor worship services.

Despite repeated warnings, the group, which calls itself the “Pan-national Alliance for Moon Jae-in’s Resignation,” plans to hold an outdoor Sunday service in Gwanghwamun at 11 a.m., though it called off a Saturday rally that was also to be held there.

“Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor ones. I urge all churches to come together for the upcoming united worship service,” Rev. Jun wrote in a letter to his followers on Thursday.

Later in the day, a Seoul court decided to keep him in custody. The pastor was arrested Monday for asking street rally participants to support a specific political party in April’s general elections, in violation of the election law.

The Seoul Central District Court denied his appeal for a review of the legality of his confinement, saying the warrant was lawfully issued and it was necessary to keep him in custody.

Jun, chairman of the Christian Council of Korea, has joined forces with conservative politicians to organize anti-government rallies at Gwanghwamun Plaza in central Seoul for months.

He is accused of calling for support of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party -- now the United Future Party -- and the Christian Liberty Party at the rallies and on various talk shows.

The pastor was investigated by police after the Seoul city government’s election commission and a Christian civic group filed separate criminal complaints against him over election law violation.

The election law forbids electioneering before the beginning of the official campaign period.

In issuing the arrest warrant, the Seoul court said that Jun, who has no electioneering rights, has continued to canvass large audiences ahead of the official campaign period.

Jun’s attorney claimed that the pastor’s acts do not meet the requirements for detainment, as he did not electioneer for specific candidates.

“(The court) detained me, saying I’m a flight risk. This is ridiculous. Where would I flee to?” Jun said to reporters.

The Seoul court had denied prosecutors’ request for a warrant to detain Jun in December last year, when they accused him of inciting violence against police during a mass rally on Oct. 3 calling for the resignations of Moon and then-Justice Minister Cho Kuk.

By Kim So-hyun and news reports