04/11/2014, 00.00
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Jeju: priests and nun arrested for protesting against naval base

by Pietro Kim Jaedeok
On 7 April, South Korean police detained two priests, a nun and a lay Catholic at the end of a "Mass for peace" against the construction of a new military base in the area. All four were released, but the local church and residents complain that the police action was a "deliberate provocation". A video of the arrests was posted online.

Jeju (AsiaNews) - The South Korean government arrested two priests, a nun and a lay Catholic in the Diocese of Cheju on charges of "interfering with police business."

Police took the four into custody because they were demonstrating peacefully against the construction of a naval base on the Jeju Island, where local residents are up in arms over the building of another military outpost on their territory.

Mgr Peter Kang U-il, head of the local diocese, has repeatedly expressed his support for their action, saying that the island is "a land of peace that must remain in peace."

The arrests took place on Monday when police detained Jesuit Fr Kim Seunghwan, Fr Junghyun, Sister Roserina, and a lay Catholic, Lee Jonghwa.

The nun and the lay Catholic were released in the afternoon but the two priests remained in custody for two days.

"Thank God, "said Mgr Kang, "they were released. Fr Kim was treated like a parcel, and complained of what happened. But now they are all home."

HaniTv broadcast a video, which local residents later posted online. It shows dozens of agents dragging the four away. Although no overt violence is seen, a local priest said that the police "is becoming more arrogant and does not even try to engage in dialogue anymore. It just detains and takes people away."

The South Korean government plans to build a base for South Korean and US marines on the island, which is located off the southern coast.

The plan was originally announced in 1993, during the presidency of Kim Young-sam. In 2007, the government chose the village Gangjeong as the site for the base.

The village chief, Yoon Tae-jun, accepted the plan on 24 April 2007, and a vote was held. But only 87 residents out of about thousand residents with the right to vote took part in the ballot.

Since then, residents and the government have been at loggerhead. Protesters have tried to disrupt work at the base, which still continues, through a series of "Masses for peace," human chains, and other actions.

Two priests were jailed in 2011 for supporting the protest, but were released after a long period of detention. A lay Catholic arrested at that time is still in prison, but he is set to be released in a few days.

A Jesuit priest, Fr Kim, and a lay brother, also a Jesuit, live in the village where they serve the local Catholic community.

For months, the detained clergyman celebrated Mass at the entrance of the base under construction. But this Tuesday, in order to stop him, the authorities parked a lorry where he had his makeshift altar (pictured). Undeterred, Fr Kim celebrated the liturgical service, but was later taken away.

At a town hall meeting in Gangjeong, residents complained about his detention, blaming police for deliberately causing tensions.

Even the National Commission for Justice and Peace criticised the arrest. "It is an abuse of governmental authority. The police is disrupting with every means at its disposal the activity of priests who are working for peace."

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