Argentine Church calls for due process for South Korean missionary
Hwang Doo-Jin was sentenced to 12 years in prison for attempted murder of his partner. Local bishops urge people to avoid prejudice and abuse. The conviction has been appealed. There are fears of discrimination because the accused belongs to a small immigrant community.
Argentina (Asia News) – In a rare initiative, the Catholic Church of Argentina has called on the country’s justice system to treat a South Korean man like everyone else. Hwang Doo-Jin, 66, has lived in Puerto Madryn, in the south of this country, for almost ten years. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison for attempted murder of a woman.
His lawyer has appealed the sentence this week to the Superior Court of Justice in Chubut Province. “We ask that his journey through the justice system be free of “snags”, that the charges against him correspond exactly to his actions and that any latent discriminatory bias be eliminated by considering him as part of an invisible minority that is easily the victim of discrimination, prejudice and abuse,” reads a statement from the Pastoral Commission of Migrants and Itinerants of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Argentina, to which the bishops of the Diocese of Comodoro Rivadavia agree.
Hwang was arrested three years ago after a confusing incident in his house involving an Argentine woman with whom he had lived for a year and a half and who accused him of planning to murder her. Hwang has always denied the charges.
According to his lawyer, Hwang's evidence and arguments were not taken into account and this is why he appealed the court decision twice.
Hwang came from South Korea to Argentina as a missionary for an Evangelical Church, leaving behind a son and three grandchildren. In Argentina he worked as an acupuncturist and is described by those who know him as a peaceful, serene man, good-mannered with everyone even though he did not manage to learn Spanish language to communicate fluently with Argentinians.
Sister Cecilia Lee, a Franciscan nun who acted as interpreter for the defence at Hwang’s trial, told AsiaNews that cultural differences and his difficulty in communicating were serious obstacles in his relationship with the woman who accused him.
Lee is also from Korea and has lived in Argentina since 1976. She is the one who got bishops’ migrants commission involved in the Hwang case. “What we want is justice to be done on the basis of what actually happened. If he is guilt of any injury then he deserves his punishment, but he should not be accused for something that did not occur,” said the nun. She notes that “there is a lot of pressure” since this is considered gender-based violence, an issue “that is highly topical and in which many do not want to get involved.”
The press release, signed by Bishop Emeritus Juan Carlos Romanín of Río Gallegos, alludes to concepts found in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti. It notes that the “invisibility of Hwang's Doon-Jin case” confirms what the Pope says about migrants: “No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human” (Fratelli Tutti 39).
The statement goes on to say that “despite the existing legal framework, he (Hwang) like many migrants around the world is likely to suffer some form of discrimination, if not abuse.”