Save Jeju Island
On Tuesday, January 10th, 22 Catholic nuns and a Jesuit priest were arrested while praying for peace at the gate of the naval base construction site in the village of Gangjeong on Jeju Island. A professor, teen-aged peace school students, and peace activists were arrested as well for holding picket signs while the sisters were praying the rosary. The activists were dancing with music at the moment of arrest. The official police report states that the arrests were due to obstruction of business and illegal assembly. This was an unprecedented case even under a military dictatorship to arrest Catholic nuns. The sisters and the priest were released the following morning and a Catholic Mass is planned to be held at the same place with all the sisters of Jeju diocese, organized by Catholic solidarity for the return to peace on the Island of Jeju.
Just weeks before, over the Christmas weekend, 41 people were arrested as they sat in front of the gate of the construction site in an attempt to prevent construction equipment from entering the site. The people gathered before dawn in freezing temperatures in an effort to have their voices heard. Those who were arrested subsequently went on a hunger strike at the police station while, on December 28th, 13 Catholic priests were put on trial for holding a peace mass and sit-in protest.
What happened to freedom of assembly, of speech, and of religion on the so called Island of Peace?
We reproduce here some background information about the nonviolent grassroots and religious campaign to prevent the construction of a naval base considered to be a part of the U.S.“Star Wars” antiballistic missile system:
The South Korean Government is constructing a naval base on Jeju Island. Officially named the “Island of World Peace” by the late President Roh Moo Hyun, Jeju was the site of a 1948 massacre in which more than 30,000 civilians were estimated to have been slaughtered during a democratic uprising.
Located strategically in the Korea Strait, the island’s potential to become a military target in the event of an armed conflict in this tense region would increase exponentially with the addition of a naval base. The threat this poses to the men, women and children of Jeju Island is unconscionable, and it can be avoided through halting the base construction.
Since plans for the naval base were announced five years ago, 94 percent of Gangjeong residents have voted against the base and used every possible democratic means to block its construction in their pristine fishing village. Yet their protests have fallen on mostly deaf ears.
Jeju Island is situated off the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and covers a lava plateau with a shield volcano at an elevation of 1,950 meters above sea level. The high biological diversity, unique volcanic topography and the culture of Jeju Island attract many tourists.
The home for this proposed military facility is the tiny village of Gangjeong, which is surrounded by three UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites and nine UNESCO Geo-Parks on an island that is designated a Global Biosphere Reserve. Construction is accelerating daily with the dredging of the island’s seabed and its coral communities currently underway.
Many observers of the region believe that the Jeju Island naval base will serve as a port of call for the U.S. military’s sea-based component of its ballistic missile defense system.
This is not only an issue of protecting the environment or preventing military expansion. Human rights and free speech are also at stake. Villagers have been arrested during nonviolent protests. Police and construction workers have assaulted elderly members of the community, who represent a large portion of the activists.
Jeju Island is under attack. “Touch not one stone, not one flower,” is its residents’ battle cry. Will you join them?
Here’s a link to a list of ways that you can assist the Gangjeong Villagers: Save Jeju Island!