|A member of the Salvation Sect speak at a press conference inside Geumsuwon, a stronghold of the sect's followers in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, Sunday. In the background is a building where Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol who turned a photographer, took photos from the window and had a studio. |
/ Korea Times photo by Ryu Hyo-jin
By Kim Da-ye
ANSEONG, Gyeonggi Province _ Tension is rising in Geumsuwon, the stronghold of the Evangelical Baptist Church, over prosecutors' move to raid it to arrest Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the operator of the sunken ferry Sewol.
Hundreds of followers of the sect have assembled here to block prosecutors from entering in defiance of law enforcement against those who are allegedly involved in irregularities related to the operation of the vessel.
The Evangelical Baptist Church unveiled the Geumsuwon compound to the media, Sunday, amid the prosecution's imminent raid to capture Yoo, the former Semo Group chairman, who is believed to be hiding there.
The prosecution has obtained the court's approval to detain Yoo, and is seeking an arrest warrant for him. The court will hold a hearing for the warrant Tuesday. Once it is issued, the prosecution is likely to raid the premises.
Devotees from the sect continued to form human barricades for six days in a row. They sat in chairs behind the metal gate and sang hymns including "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus" and "Fight against the devil." They occasionally stood up with placards and shouted slogans condemning the prosecution and the government.
"Be prepared for bloodshed. Things cannot get worse. We will protect with our lives. In case of bloodshed, the prosecution will be responsible. If we lose the church, we lose everything," they shouted, punching the air with their fists.
Lee Jae-oak, the chairman of Hemato-Centric Life Foundation, who is close to Yoo, said that while there are many different opinions about the whereabouts of Yoo among the followers, he personally believes Yoo is staying somewhere in the 2.5-million-square-meter compound.
"Yoo took photos here for four years. I think he is still here," said Lee in a press conference held in front of an assembly hall built with metal panels. Yoo took more than 3 million photos between 2009 and 2013 in one of the rooms in the building.
However, it is unclear if Yoo is still on the premises. No one can rule out a possibility of him slipping out of the compound.
Lee said that the Salvation Sect and the Evangelical Baptist Church aren't the same group, and are protecting Geumsuwon from the prosecution for different reasons. The sect regards Yoo as a mentor so it tries to protect him. The church does not want investigators to enter and search the premises because it is a religious facility.
The sect was formed in 1960s, and some members set up the church in the 1980s. Some residents living and working inside Geumsuwon follow either of them or both. Yoo belongs to the sect, but not the church, Lee said.
Unlike the tense atmosphere at the entrance, the inside of Geumsuwon was tranquil. While known as the religious training center, Geumsuwon consists mostly of hills and farms. Followers form a community here, living and working together.
The sect members guided journalists through fish farms, a dairy farm, and a narrow path in a bushy hill to the assembly hall with Yoo's photography studio. Members said they farm various fish including eels, catfish and carp and earn an annual revenue of some 100 million won while 79 dairy cows produce just enough milk for members of the sect and church.
While Lee said Yoo is no longer religious and is only a mentor to the devotees regarding their living and lifestyle, his influence prevailed in Geumsuwon. Park Young-hwan, a team leader of the dairy farm, said, "Chairman Yoo told us not to feed the cows antibiotics, so we have researched for methods to grow them without antibiotics."
The sect did not let journalists inside the assembly hall or visit other religious facilities. Lee said that they are considering opening their weekly meeting called a "forum" to the public next week.