Seoul (AsiaNews) - South Korean Catholics are back in the streets to pray and protest against abuses of power and interference by the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea's intelligence service.
On Monday, in front of Seoul City Hall, lay people and members of clergy, including priests and nuns, from across the country shouted slogans and sang songs against the intelligence service and its interference in the lives of ordinary citizens, asking for its dissolution.
Among the many cases of abuse, protesters mentioned the last presidential election that ended with the defeat of the United Democratic Party candidate Moon Jae-in, a Catholic, who was also present at the prayer meeting.
His defeat was apparently "engineered" by people trained by the NIS who sent large numbers of text messages to voters extolling the conservative candidate and current President Park Geun-hye, whilst spreading false information about her opponent.
The Catholic Priests' Association for Justice (CPAJ) , set up under the Park dictatorship, took part in the prayer for the first time, and openly called for the dismantling of the NIS.
After getting the go-ahead of the Korean bishops , who had previously spoken with Vatican officials, priests joined the long battle engaged by lay Catholics against the intelligence service, describing the situation as a "serious crisis".
More than 5,000 ordinary citizens, men and women religious as well as lay people, took part in the demonstration, united in defending the right to personal liberty against a "dangerous organisation" that constitutes a " threat to democracy".
Anonymous Catholic sources from Justice and Peace interviewed by the newspaper Hankyoreh said that the large presence of Catholics shows that, despite the bishops' great prudence, the situation is "dire".
After the South Korean Church issued a protest manifesto against NIS interference, it was joined by civil society groups that have for weeks held vigils and protests in front of the headquarters of the NIS and of the ruling Conservative (Saenuri) Party.
Everyone is calling for the resignation of top NIS officials, an apology from the government for the election fraud and the dismantling of the surveillance system that "brought the country back to the years of the military dictatorship" of the 1970s.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS ) was created in 1961 as the Korea Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). Its initial task was to supervise and coordinate domestic and international intelligence activities. However, thanks to its sweeping powers, it was able to intervene and actively influence South Korean politics.
In 1981, it took the name of Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP), following a series of reforms instituted under President Chun Doo-hwan and the Fifth Republic.
It assumed its current name in 1999.