What They Said is a weekly series on the quotes behind the headlines.
Several headlines decorated the front page of South Korean web portals over the past week.
One was a statement from Kim Do-Hyung, a professor at Dankook University who has dedicated 30 years of his life to tracking down the crimes committed by Jung Myung-seok, the founder and leader of Providence, a South Korean cult better known by his initials, JMS. (The church claims that JMS stands for “Jesus, Messiah, Savior” or “Jesus, Morning Star”.) Since the Netflix documentary In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal, which spotlights JMS and other cults, was released on March 3, South Korean society has been in uproar, particularly over Jung’s sexual assault crimes, for which he served a ten-year sentence and is again in custody, and more.
In an interview on KBS’s The Live on March 9, Kim said:
“The reason why we need to be careful is that there are people protecting Jeong Myeong-seok not far from us. They’re also at KBS. A KBS producer, I can even say their name. But that would be too cruel, so I won’t say the name, but the KBS producer is also a current [JMS] believer, and there is also an interpreter who often appears on KBS. She’s a female interpreter, and she served as an interpreter for sexual victims [at JMS], foreign sexual victims who are currently involved in criminal cases. But if such a person continues to appear on KBS, the young people would think, ‘Ah, she can be trusted.’ But what would happen if you trusted and followed her? It would continue the cycle of sexual assault [committed by Jeong].”
— Kim Do-Hyung, professor at Dankook University and anti-JMS activist, March 9, 2023
On the same day, KBS announced that it would launch an investigation to find out whether Kim’s statement was true. Then, the next day, KBS released an official statement:
“We would like to inform our viewers of the facts related to Professor Kim Do-Hyung’s remarks about JMS on KBS1 The Live. It has been confirmed that the producer and the interpreter that Professor Kim Do-Hyung mentioned on air are not currently involved in production at KBS. In this regard, we have expressed regret over Professor Kim flatly using the expression a ‘KBS producer.’ Thank you.”
— KBS, March 10, 2023
It seems likely that the stir this documentary has caused won’t be abating anytime soon. Several people in the entertainment industry have confessed to once being part of JMS and while they claim to have long since severed ties with the cult, it has now been established that JMS allows its followers to deny their faith in times of oppression. In addition, Jeong is expected to be released from custody next month.
Also in the news is the director of the popular Korean Netflix series The Glory, which tells the story of a woman who was bullied in high school taking revenge on her bullies. Ironically, immediately prior to the release of Part 2 of The Glory, Ahn Gil-ho was accused of bullying in his teenage years. After denying the allegation initially, saying that he had no recollection of using violence to hurt someone, he issued a statement through his lawyer on March 12:
“My name is Kim Munhee. I’m an attorney at Jipyong LLC which is representing director Ahn Gil-ho. We apologize for the delay from the initial report to the announcement of his position.
Director Ahn Gil-ho had a girlfriend whom he started dating when he was studying abroad in the Philippines in 1996. Hearing that his girlfriend was made fun of at school because of him, he let his emotions intensify momentarily and ended up inflicting wounds on others that could not be erased.
He asks for forgiveness from the bottom of his heart to those who have been hurt by this incident. If given the opportunity, he would like to express his apology either in person or through a phone call.
He apologizes for causing trouble through an unpleasant incident.”
Although it might be too much to equate Ahn’s actions with the majority of bullying in school, which usually takes place over a long period rather than as a one-off incident, the allegations have certainly made Korean society more aware of violence in school.
Lastly, Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, has again made the headlines, for two issues—the desecration of the graves of Lee’s parents, and the suicide of his former chief of staff.
The Democratic Party issued a statement regarding the graves, calling for the authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate:
“Circumstances of terrorism were spotted around the graves of Party Leader Lee Jae-myung’s parents.
Someone made a hole in the grave and buried stone tablets with markings on them. They even stomped on the grave to make the mound flatter. There are letters that we don’t know the detailed meaning of, but they seem shamanistic.
It is an act of terror against the dead. I am outraged about the immoral behavior of attacking the graves of the dead in order to attack the leader of the first opposition party.
Moreover, it is astonishing that shamanistic means were used for this act of terror.
Has Korea returned to the pre-modern era when shamans were prevalent?
It’s shocking how such a horrific act of terrorism can take place in the 21st century.
You can criticize the leader of the opposition party. But there are lines you shouldn’t cross.
Terrorizing the graves of one’s deceased parents is tantamount to killing the dead again.
The investigative authorities should immediately find out who perpetrated this terrorism and who was behind it. We urge the authorities to conduct a strict and speedy investigation.”
—Lim O-kyeong, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Korea, March 12, 2022
As for the passing of Jeon Hyeong-su, snippets of the suicide note he left have been revealed, though it is unclear whether the sources are reliable as the family of the deceased has refused to make the note public. While the People Power Party is accusing Lee of being indirectly involved in the death of an associate again (for the fourth time, they claim), the Democratic Party is laying the blame on the prosecution for the pressure they are putting on Lee’s associates. Yet there are also signs of discord within the Democratic Party too.
On March 10, 2023, Yoon Youngchan, a National Assembly member for the Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook:
“Those who have long known Mr. Jeon Hyeong-su in our local city of Seongnam remember him as a ‘true civil servant with great character’. I didn’t know him personally, but I also feel deep sorrow as I hear from the many people who remember him with fondness.
May he rest in peace.
There are now four people who have taken their lives while accused of or under investigation for something related to party leader Lee Jae-myung. All four had faithfully served Lee. They were beloved fathers, husbands, and colleagues.
What caused them to suffer so much that they ended up giving up their only lives and leaving their families, for whom they lived?
If it is because of the prosecution’s excessive investigation, as party leader Lee said, that should be revealed quickly. But if party leader Lee Jae-myung himself or people around him pressured the deceased in any way, he must take responsibility. Mr. Jeon worked for him for over a decade. It is only natural that party leader Lee be held ethically accountable. That is what a human should do.
Things happened in one city, and the people involved continue to die. This is an unprecedented, shocking turn of events; an incomprehensible tragedy. I am even more saddened and outraged, as this series of events is transpiring in our city of Seongnam.
With both hands put together in respect, I pray for the soul of former chief of staff Jeon Hyeong-su.
I pray for comfort and healing for his family.”
— Yoon Youngchan, National Assembly member for the Democratic Party of Korea and a representative for Seongnam, March 10, 2023
The majority of the party, however, seems to stand behind Lee, as there is not any concrete evidence against him as of yet.