Georgian and Armenian Foreign Ministers have once again exchanged views on COVID-19 pandemic situation
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani spoke over the phone with his Armenian counterpart, Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. The Armenian Minister expressed his gratitude for the Georgian government’s active communication with Armenia.
The two ministers exchanged information on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak situation and on actions taken by the Georgian and Armenian governments to prevent its further spread.
On behalf of the Georgian Prime Minister, David Zalkaliani once again offered assistance to the Armenian side in the fight against the pandemic.
Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Prime Minister, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan expressed his appreciation regarding the offer. He said that he highly values the Georgian people’s support in these difficult times. The two ministers agreed to continue active communication, including through the active involvement of sectoral agencies.
Exchanging information on security issues, the parties underlined that regional and global security taken on an increasingly meaningful focus during the pandemic.
Conversations also included issues of cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats, including within the Eastern Partnership
Special note was taken of the special importance of Eastern Partnership for the countries involved in it. The Ministers said that they look forward to exchanging high-level visits once the pandemic is over. Zohrab Mnatsakanyan invited David Zalkaliani for a visit to Armenia.
International Scholars Raise Concerns over “an Attempt to Destroy a New Religious Movement” in South Korea
On July 20, a webinar on a new religious movement in South Korea and its political, religious, and social dimensions with the recent COVID-19 crisis invited international scholars and experts in the field of religion, international law, and human rights.
Titled “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Scapegoating Shincheonji in South Korea”, the webinar addressed the recent issues of aggressive attack from politically powerful conservative and fundamentalist Protestant churches in the country on a newly-established, fast-growing Christian denomination named 'Shincheonji (New Heaven and New Earth) Church of Jesus' founded in 1984.
The new Christian movement by Shincheonji has become a target of “persecution from fundamentalist protestants” because of its successful religious expansion “from the conservative and fundamentalist protestants who see Shincheonji as competitors and want to destroy it," said Massimo Introvigne as an Italian sociologist of religion who studied Shincheonji before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and published the first account of the religious group in English.
Alessandro Amicarelli, Chairman European Federation for Freedom of Belief, pointed out that the South Korean authorities problematized Shincheonji as a cause of the COVID-19 crisis to shut down the church. “Already 30 other people were tested positive before the patient 31 (a member of Shincheonji criticized for the widespread of the virus). Many Chinese including ones from Wuhan had visited Daegu (of South Korea) and infection spread,” he said.
Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), said that the recent attack on Shincheonji can be viewed as an attempt by the fundamentalist Protestant groups in South Korea to weaken and destroy the competitor in the religious market. He added, "Human rights violations against Shincheonji members through coercive conversion program (also known as 'deprogramming') with kidnapping and confinement for the last decade have been made as a result of the failure of competition from the Protestant churches in the country."
Ciaran Burke, Associate Professor in University of Derby, said that the South Korean health authorities explicitly link Shinchoenji and outbreak of the COVID-19 until now even though a greater link between the virus and confirmation cases has been found in other churches. He also expressed concerns over “collecting personal information of 300,000 domestic and international Shincheonji members by the government which is a possible violation of international agreement, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) South Korea ratified in 1990.”
The prosecution initiated investigation of Shincheonji leaders including founder Man Hee Lee for his alleged role in the widespread of the COVID-19. Three Shincheonji officials were arrested on July 8 on a charge of playing a role in major outbreak at its early stage by “(submitting) inaccurate list of members.”
“The authorities ignored requests to change the word ‘sect’ in their official reports when referring to Shincheonji church. Local governments encouraged the residents to report Shincheonji congregation and facilities to the authorities, creating stigma that the members were to be treated as criminals,” said a Shincheonji official in the webinar.
A recent statement issued by “families of the deceased and victims of COVID-19” wrote that "the thousands of the damage and deaths of Koreans reflect the failure of initial response to contain the virus by the government." It added that the Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae “allowed COVID-19 patients from China to enter Korea, leading to a widespread outbreak of the virus across the country, which resulted in the deaths of the Korean people.” It also stated that she is trying to avoid her responsibility for the damage by “giving direct orders to prosecutors for a raid and arrests against Shincheonji Church”.
A leading South Korean TV network, MBC reported that a recently conducted screening at Daegu, epicenter of COVID-19 major outbreak within South Korea added the weight to the failure of initial response to contain the virus by the government. The report, citing analysis from a local university hospital, inferred that at least 180,000 of the total population of 2.4 million people in the city of Daegu were infected with the COVID-19, 27 times to the official 6,800 confirmed cases. Most of the confirmation cases, over 5,000, are members of Shincheonji Church as their personal information was collected by the government, while the remaining 180,000 potential infections have not been investigated.
Press Release of the Department of Public Relations
Heavenly Culture, World Peace, and the Restoration of Light
D. Zalkaliani has spoken over the phone with the newly-appointed Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan, J. BayramovOn 17 July 2020, the Georgian Foreign Minister, David Zalkaliani spoke over the phone with the newly-appointed Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Jeikhun Bayramov.
Congratulating on the appointment, Zalkaliani wished his Azeri counterpart success in his new role as Foreign Minister. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment towards further deepening the friendship and strategic partnership between the two countries.Enquiring about the escalations at Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia, Zalkaliani received the latest information on the ongoing situation. According to him, there is no alternative to peaceful settlement of the conflict. The Georgian Foreign Minister expressed the hope that through the engagement of international mechanisms and of the OSCE Minsk Group, in particular, it will be possible to bring the peace process back on track and de-escalate the tension.
Within the framework of his visit to Brussels, David Zalkaliani, held a meeting with the EU Commissioner
Within the framework of his visit to Brussels, the Georgian Foreign Minister, David Zalkaliani, held a meeting with the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy, Olivér Várhelyi.
The discussion touched upon cooperation within the format of the “Eastern Partnership Initiative”, including the framework of Ministerials for Foreign Ministers and meetings for the leaders of member states. Namely, the discussion took place regarding issues associated with the upcoming summit and future perspectives of the partnership beyond the year of 2020.
The parties, once again, exchanged opinions regarding the priorities and views of the Georgian side.
The Georgian party expressed gratitude towards the EU for the active support provided to Georgia during the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, the EU Commissioner gave a positive assessment of the steps taken on behalf of the Georgian Government in terms of preventing the spread of the virus.
The developments and general situation on the ground in the occupied territories was also discussed, condemning the illicit activity of the occupational forces, which only became more distinct during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns were expressed regarding the illicit detainment and arrest of the Georgian citizen on the 11th of July perpetrated by the occupational regime forces.
The role of the EU was underscored in terms of finding a peaceful resolution of the conflict, outlining the significance of the EUMM (EU monitoring mission) as a preventive force in the occupied regions on the ground, deescalating the situation via the means of the monitoring process.
NGOs in the UN and Religious Leaders Demand Correction on Repression and Violation of Human Rights against Religion
NGOs in association with the United Nations and religious communities in the globe are raising their voices on the need to correct inappropriate persecution and human rights violation against a religious group in South Korea named Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
11 NGOs including European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP-LC) submitted a report for “annual report for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights” to the UN Secretary General at the 44th session in the UN Assembly Human Rights Council. The report is titled “scapegoating members of Shincheonji for COVID-19 in the Republic of Korea.”
By referring to the report from United States of America Commission of International Religious Freedom, the report to the UN said, “Shincheonji was suffering harassment from the South Korean government and society. Although some government measures appeared to be driven by legitimate public health concerns, others appeared to exaggerate the church’s role in the outbreak.”
“The government of Seoul locked down Shincheonji churches in the capital, and some mainline Protestant groups have accused the church of deliberately spreading the disease,” it continued.
The report stated, “The virus cannot be an excuse to violate human rights and religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of believers. Intolerance, violence, and discrimination against Shincheonji should be put to an end.”
Religious communities initiated to issue statements to advocate improvements in the unequal treatment against Shincheonji.
"The news of Chairman Lee and Shincheonji are being singled out and blamed for COVID-19 spread and sued is deeply concerning to all faith leaders who valued freedom of religion and the protection of human rights. This adverse action shall have chilling repercussions through the religious world," said Mr. Sheikh Musa Drammeh, Chairman of Islamic Cultural Center of North America.
And Swami Vedanand Saraswati, a Hindu Spiritual Leader based in Durban stressed the tolerance and harmony. “As members of the HWPL, our primary goal is unity, equality, respect and tolerance. Only together can we overcome the enormous challenges we face. United we stand, divided we shall fall. Let us unite and support each other and stop these unwarranted attempts to tarnish pure intentions and righteous actions.”
Recently, Chairman Lee of Shincheonji Church of Jesus encouraged the members who recovered from the COVID-19 to voluntarily join in donation of plasma. Around 4,000 recovered members said they are willing to donate plasma for research on a new treatment.
He said that there has been political motives in persecution of Shincheonji Church of Jesus and HWPL (a peace NGO) by “using us (Shincheonji), the victims of COVID-19, as their scapegoat in order to hide their own faults.” He added, “Persecuting peace organizations, religious organizations, and violating human rights must be stopped in Korea.”
Press Coordinator of Georgia
Department of Public Relations (International)
Heavenly Culture, World Peace, and the Restoration of Light
Czech contribution in monitoring COVID-19 in Georgia was invaluable and hugely important” - Georgia’s Health Minister
"Czech contribution in monitoring COVID-19 in Georgia was invaluable and hugely important” - Georgia’s Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze praised the Czech Republic’s contribution during Friday meeting with the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Georgia, H.E. Petr Mikyska as the Georgian and Czech sides met to discuss various aspects of joint collaboration.
In return, Ambassador Mikyska highlighted Georgia's notable success in dealing with the pandemic, saying that Georgia is "Deservedly considered among the best countries worldwide when it comes to combating COVID-19”.
The meeting was also attended by the representatives of the health sector and the Czech non-governmental organization the Caritas Czech Republic in Georgia, which presented two new projects: “Way to Home: Development of Adult Alternative Social Services in Georgia” and “Support to Primary Healthcare Strengthening in Georgia (Phase II)”, funded with more than 2 million euro from Czech Development Cooperation.