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Lee Hyo-jae, champion of women’s rights in South Korea, dies at 95

Ms. Lee was a prominent activist and a founder of women’s studies programs. She also stood up to the country’s dictators.


By Michael Astor


The New York Times (14.11.2020) – https://nyti.ms/3f86edt – When Lee Hyo-jae learned of a university colleague’s research into the Korean “comfort women” taken by the Japanese military for use as sex slaves during World War II, she came to view the government-sanctioned enslavement as one of history’s most brutal war crimes.


She spent the next two decades fighting to bring attention to the issue and to secure redress from Japan. But that was only one of many causes taken up by Ms. Lee, one of South Korea’s foremost activists on behalf of women’s rights and democracy.


She helped abolish South Korea’s patriarchal naming system, allowing people to use two surnames to reflect their heritage from both parents. She helped establish a quota requiring that half of a party’s candidates running for the National Assembly be women. She pushed for equal pay for equal work.


Ms. Lee died on Oct. 4, 2020, at a hospital in Changwon, in the country’s southeast. She was 95. The cause was sepsis, her nephew Lynn Rowe said.


“In the dark times when the stars were brighter, she was one of the most brilliant,” President Moon Jae-in said in a statement after her death. He posthumously awarded her a national medal, an honor she declined in 1996 because the same medal was being given to someone she believed to be a government agent planted within the women’s movement.


Along with her work on behalf of women, Ms. Lee was also active in the struggle for democracy when South Korea was under dictatorial rule, and was a forceful advocate for the reunification of the two Koreas.


She was among a group of 30 female activists, including Gloria Steinem and the Nobel Peace laureates Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, who received international attention for making a rare trip in 2015 across the Demilitarized Zone separating the North and South to promote disarmament and peace between the two countries, which are technically still at war.


Ms. Lee was a professor emeritus of sociology at the prestigious Ewha Womans University, where she inspired generations of young women. Many became leading feminists and rose to key positions in liberal governments. Ms. Lee turned down a number of offers to enter politics, preferring her roles as professor and activist.


In her later years, Ms. Lee helped found the Miracle Library, a national network of libraries aimed at children and teens in rural areas.


Lee Hyo-jae was born on Nov. 4, 1924, in Masan, a precinct of Changwon in Gyeongsang Province, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Her father, Lee Yak-shin, was a Presbyterian minister and leader in the church and her mother, Lee Oak-kyung, founded and ran an orphanage.


When she was a young woman, her parents brought her to Seoul for an arranged marriage but Ms. Lee ran away, believing it would interfere with her ambitions, Mr. Rowe said. She never married.


A few years later her father met Jobe Couch, an American serviceman attached to the U.S. Embassy in Korea. Mr. Couch, who was married but had no children, became impressed by Ms. Lee’s younger sister Hyo-suk and offered to take her back with him to the United States to gain a college education. The sister, however, refused to go without Ms. Lee and so he brought them both in 1945.


It wasn’t easy. Mr. Couch had to enlist the help of an Alabama congressman, Carl Elliott, to obtain visas and he had to lobby the University of Alabama to accept the sisters on full scholarships even though they did not speak English.


Ms. Lee earned a bachelor’s degree at Alabama and went on to earn a master’s in sociology from Columbia University before returning to South Korea in 1957.


She founded the sociology department at Ewha the following year. She began teaching the school’s first course in women’s studies in 1977, which led to the development of South Korea’s first graduate level women’s studies program.


“She was the most distinguished woman leader at that time,” Jung Byung-joon, a history professor at Ewha, said in an email, and she became an advocate for human rights and democratization. “It was very challenging and dangerous choice for her to join the anti-regime movement.”


She was fired from Ewha in 1980 for her opposition to the military regime in power at the time, but was reinstated in 1986 as the country was returning to democracy.


Ms. Lee is survived by her daughter Hee-kyung and her sister, who now goes by Hyo Suk Rowe, and two other sisters, Sung Suk Gaber and Unwha Shin.


She was especially passionate about the cause of the “comfort women.” As many as 200,000 women from Korea and other Asian countries were conscripted as sex slaves for Japanese troops beginning in the 1930s.


After decades of denial, the Japanese government in 1992 acknowledged its involvement. South Korea and Japan reached a settlement in 2015 that involved an apology from the Japanese government and $8.3 million to provide care for the surviving women, who numbered around 45 at the time.


“Japan’s crime against the women is unprecedented, even among the brutal war histories of humankind, because this enslavement of Korean women was carried out systematically as an official policy of the Japanese government,” Ms. Lee told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, when a memorial library was dedicated in Koreatown. “It’s ironic that the first memorial to the women should be in America.”

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Dozens of gay men are outed in Morocco as photos are spread online

The idea was to show the hypocrisy of Moroccan society by showing how many gay men are living quietly in straight society. It backfired badly.


By Aida Alami


The New York Times (26.04.2020) – https://nyti.ms/3aLsKVr – At least 50 to 100 gay men were outed in Morocco over the last two weeks, rights activists say, after the men were identified on location-based meeting apps while sheltering at home amid a coronavirus lockdown.


In at least three cases, men were kicked out of their houses, L.G.B.T.Q. activists said. In interviews, many others in the country said they had been blackmailed and threatened, and thousands fear that their photos will be spread on social media.


“Here I am just waiting for my death sentence,” said a young man whose photos were leaked online and who spoke anonymously for fear of being attacked. “I’m frustrated and scared.”


In Morocco, a North African kingdom where homosexuality and sex outside marriage are crimes, gay people are painfully accustomed to the feelings of peril and rejection, and many keep their sexual identities under wraps.


Now, their cover has been blown in a way that would be criminal in most Western societies, rights advocates say. Yet they have no legal recourse.


“Forcibly outing people is not just an obvious violation of their right to privacy,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, the communications director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “When wrapped in incitement to hate and calls to violence based on sexual orientation, it’s also a crime.”


“A legal system respectful of universal rights would empower victims to press charges,” he said. “But in Morocco, same-sex behavior is also criminalized, so victims could find themselves trapped in a tragic catch-22 situation.”


What makes this episode particularly painful, gay leaders say, is that it was ignited by someone who had also been singled out.


On April 13, a Moroccan transgender Instagram personality based in Istanbul, Naoufal Moussa or Sofia Talouni, was insulted about her sexual orientation. In a rage, she released a profanity-laced video encouraging women to download the location-based meeting apps, like Grindr and Planet Romeo, which are usually used by gay men.


In subsequent videos, she said her aim was to reveal the hypocrisy of Moroccan society by showing her attackers how many gay men were living in their vicinity, perhaps even in their own homes.


Many people followed Ms. Moussa’s lead and created fake accounts on the apps to gather photos of gay men, which they then posted on private and public Facebook pages, setting off the homophobic attacks.


The attacks ignited a firestorm of criticism, both of Ms. Moussa and of Morocco’s discriminatory laws.


Adam Eli, the founder of the New York-based activist group Voices4, worked in coordination with Moroccan L.G.B.T.Q. rights activists to get Ms. Moussa’s Instagram account deleted.


“For now the account has been suspended, and already a new one has popped up,” he said. “We did not solve the issue of queer-phobia in Morocco. However, we showed a bunch of young queer people, who are scared and in quarantine, that they are not alone, that they have the force of the international queer community behind them.”


A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, confirmed that Ms. Moussa’s account had been suspended. “We don’t allow people to out members of the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community because it puts them at risk,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “We’ve disabled Naoufal Moussa’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, and we’re taking proactive steps to find and remove other content like this.”


What seems to have set Ms. Moussa off was a late-night conversation with a little-known Instagram user, who in an interview asked to be identified only as Yassine, for fear for his safety.


Ms. Moussa has attained a measure of fame in recent months, using her platform to talk crudely about sex and to entertain her followers in an insolent and confrontational manner in vulgar Moroccan Arabic. That has made her an object of fascination and horror to her more than half-million followers.


And she is known to despise L.G.B.T.Q. people who do not make their sexual orientation known.


Yassine, a 22-year-old, said he was initially delighted to be picked to go live on Instagram with Ms. Moussa. But what felt like an honor rapidly turned into embarrassment and shock as Ms. Moussa compelled him to acknowledge that he was gay, threatening to post revealing photos showing him with another gay man. It is unclear how she obtained the photos.


“I was shocked and then very scared,” Yassine said. “She destroyed my life.”


He has since been forced to move out of the house of a family member and to use his savings to rent a small apartment in Tangier.


“Everybody is sending the video and saying bad things about me,” he said. “My mom, also, she’s very sad. She’s not talking to me anymore. My friends at the gym, friends I went to school with — they all blocked me.”


Many who saw the outing of Yassine were outraged and attacked Ms. Moussa, flagging her account to Instagram. That’s when she got angry and suggested downloading gay meeting apps, which led to the outburst of anti-gay violence.


“My dating life in Morocco was somehow OK as long as my partner and I were being super discreet and cautious,” said one gay man who asked to be identified only by his initials, N.A., and says his family hasn’t seen the photos. He has been staying with his grandmother and waiting in fear for something bad to happen.


Abdellah Taia, a prominent gay author and one of few to publicly declare his sexual orientation in Morocco, says that the state keeps people in a gray area, making them vulnerable to abuse and discrimination and forcing many into hiding.


“This is a great and bitter Moroccan comedy,” he said, adding of the pandemic that is exacerbating the situation: “Corona reveals every day a little more how the weakest on this Earth are even weaker and more ostracized than we thought. It’s sad. It’s tragic. It’s revolting.”


Morocco’s Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.


The outing episode is seen by many as destroying a fragile balance that the country’s underground gay culture has built laboriously over the years, made even worse in a time of uncertainty and economic hardship. But they do have some support at home.


Nadia Bezad, the president of the Pan-African Organization for the Fight Against AIDS, said that while Morocco’s laws were unlikely to change, its health ministry encourages associations like hers to help vulnerable populations, including gay people.


“They can come to us without any danger or apprehension,” she said. “The reality is that they are tolerated but expected to remain invisible.”

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SOUTH KOREA: Being called a cult is one thing, being blamed for an epidemic is quite another

How one mysterious church became a lightning rod for South Koreans’ anger over the coronavirus outbreak


By Raphael Rashid


The New York Times (09.03.2020) – https://nyti.ms/3b5IenM — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Korea neared 7,400 on Monday morning. As many of them have been traced back to the mysterious Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the organization has become a lightning rod for the public’s wrath and a ready outlet for longstanding prejudice.


The outbreak has centered on Daegu, a city of about 2.5 million in the country’s southeast, after a 61-year-old Shincheonji congregant — known as Patient No. 31 — is believed to have infected many other worshipers during services. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that as of Saturday, 63.5 percent of all confirmed cases in the country were “related to Shincheonji.”


The government, after a sluggish and naïve initial response — and President Moon Jae-in’s ill-advised comment in mid-February that Covid-19 would “disappear before long” — is now going full throttle trying to contain the epidemic: Parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 15.


The authorities have begun a vast, fast program to test potential Covid-19 patients. It is open to all (including undocumented immigrants) and free of charge for anyone who displays telltale symptoms or has a doctor’s referral. Special drive-through clinics have been set up. More than 196,000 people had been tested as of Monday morning.


But anger is still running high — South Korea has the second-largest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases of any country, after China — and Shincheonji, which has become so closely associated with the outbreak, is taking much of the blame.


Some of Shincheonji’s practices — secrecy, the banning of health masks, praying in close proximity — are said to have helped spread the disease among congregants. The church’s leaders have been accused of deliberately withholding information about its membership, stymying the health authorities’ efforts to trace and test every person who might have come into contact with someone infected with the virus. Shincheonji’s founder could face murder charges.


The church has refuted all accusations. In a “letter of appeal” posted on its website on March 4, it also claims that “some 4,000 cases of injustice against Shincheonji congregants” had been reported since the beginning of the outbreak. Some members were fired by their employers for belonging to Shincheonji, it alleges; others were abused by their spouses. The church’s website maintains a page under the header “Covid-19/Fact-checker.”


The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony — as its full name goes — was founded in 1984 by Lee Man-hee, now 88, whom it presents as the “Promised Pastor” sent by Jesus and a man uniquely capable of deciphering the Bible’s Book of Revelation. Shincheonji claims that it has more than 245,000 followers.


About 27 percent of South Koreans identified as Christian in the 2015 national census. The country counts dozens of Protestant megachurches, including some of the largest in the world; in and around Seoul alone, there are 15 with over 10,000 members each. Last year, more than 28,000 missionaries from South Korea went on missions to 171 countries.


Mainstream Christian groups, many of which are Protestant, reject Mr. Lee’s teachings and call Shincheonji a cult. The Presbyterian Church of Korea claims that Mr. Lee’s views — including, for example, that Jesus is not God incarnated — are “heretical” and “anti-Christian.”


But being called a cult is one thing, and being blamed for starting an epidemic is quite another. Yet some members of the public, the media and the political class have, in effect, equated the two charges, out of fear, confusion or political expediency.


With no clear front-runner to take over after Mr. Moon, the president, is set to leave office in May 2022, a raft of contenders are hustling to establish their credentials for his position or a top job in the future. With all the seats in the National Assembly in contest next month, the election is also something of a gauge for that other big race.


On Feb. 25, Lee Jae-myung, the governor of Gyeonggi Province and a member of the ruling Democratic Party, made a show of going to Shincheonji’s headquarters along with 40 public servants, ostensibly to retrieve, and forcibly if necessary, the list of the church’s members. “This is a state of war,” the governor is reported to have said.


Within days, Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae, an ally of the president, instructed prosecutors to investigate Shincheonji if it obstructed or refused to cooperate with the authorities. This, even though prosecutors in Daegu have said that they needed more time to decide if a search warrant was in order.


Then, it was the mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, who called on prosecutors to press charges against Shincheonji’s leadership, for “murder through willful negligence.” Mr. Park briefly ran for the presidency in 2017, and this gambit seemed designed to project authority and attract media attention.


Never mind, apparently, that Kim Kang-lip, the vice minister of health, has publicly stated that Shincheonji has been cooperating and providing the data requested of it. Mr. Kim has also warned that taking forceful measures against the church could scare its members into hiding and complicate efforts to contain the outbreak.


People are anxious, understandably. Some coronavirus patients are said to have died at home after being turned away from hospitals that had run out of beds for patients. But then some hospitals have also reported turning away people displaying symptoms of Covid-19 if they had not recently traveled to China — or because they were not members of Shincheonji. This, too, singles out and stigmatizes the church, breeding resentment against it.


In a survey released on March 2 by the local pollster Realmeter, more than 86 percent of respondents said they wanted Shincheonji to be searched so that the authorities could check its membership. A petition calling on Shincheonji to be dissolved — which was uploaded to the president’s official website — has received more than 1.25 million signatures.


Then again, there is also a petition calling for Mr. Moon’s impeachment, and it had garnered the support of more than 1.4 million people by March 5, when the drive ended. (The country’s total population is close to 52 million.)


Opposition parties have criticized Mr. Moon’s administration for its handling of the epidemic, arguing that it should have blocked all arrivals from China as early as late January, well before the cluster of cases linked to Shincheonji broke out in mid-February.


Of course, none of this absolves Shincheonji of potential wrongdoing. Shincheonji is secretive, and its leaders sometimes are deliberately provocative: Mr. Lee initially said that the epidemic resulted from “the evil who got jealous of Shincheonji’s rapid growth” — before calling it “a great calamity” at a news conference at one of the church’s buildings near Seoul last week.


Outside that building, a woman holding up placards denouncing the church’s “pseudo-religion” said she was searching for her daughter, a Shincheonji member, whom she had not seen for years. This mother is hardly the first person to accuse the church of indoctrinating a relative, or of forcing members to break off ties with their families.


But even if the worst of these claims is true, Shincheonji also has been, quite simply, unlucky to catch the coronavirus in its own way. And now it is paying a heavy price for public prejudice and political opportunism.



Raphael Rashid (@koryodynasty) is a journalist based in Seoul.


The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.


Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

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The grisly deaths of a woman and a girl shock Mexico and test its president

The murders of Ingrid Escamilla, 25, and Fátima Aldrighett, 7, are forcing a reckoning in a country that has wrestled with violence against women. The president’s response has been harshly criticized.


By Kirk Semple and Paulina Villegas


The New York Times (19.02.2020) – https://nyti.ms/32qYqgu – The gruesome murders this month of a woman and a girl in Mexico have shocked the nation, triggering a groundswell of outrage punctuated by near-daily street protests, unbridled fury on social media and growing demands for incisive government action against gender-based violence.


The woman, Ingrid Escamilla, 25, was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled, and the girl, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, 7, was abducted from school, her body later found wrapped in a plastic bag. The outcry over their deaths is forcing a reckoning in a country that has long wrestled with violence against women, analysts and activists say.


It is also amounting to a major leadership test for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — and critics, who have called his response at turns anemic, insensitive and condescending, say he is falling far short.


Xóchitl Rodríguez, a member of Feminasty, a feminist activist collective, said she has been deeply disappointed by the response of Mr. López Obrador, who campaigned as a transformative figure who would defend marginalized populations.


“He was supposed to represent a change and it turns out that he is not,” she said. “The fact that you wake up in the morning and your president cannot reassure you on what specific actions he is taking to deal with the issue, is outrageous.”


In 2019, the Mexican government recorded 1,006 incidents of femicide, the crime of killing women or girls because of their gender — a 10 percent increase from 2018. The overall number of women who die violently in Mexico has also increased, rising to 10 killings per day in 2019 from seven per day in 2017, according to the Mexico office of U.N. Women.


“Women are demanding a shift of paradigm and nothing less,” said Estefanía Vela, executive director of Intersecta, a Mexico City-based group that promotes gender equality. “These are not only hashtags. These are students protesting at the universities, and mothers demanding justice for their daughters.”


But Mr. López Obrador has seemed to struggle with how to respond to the issue.


Speaking at one of his regular morning news conference last week, the president bristled at journalists’ questions about femicide, and tried to bring the conversation back to his announcement that the government had recovered more than $100 million in criminal assets and would be channeling it into poor communities.


“Look, I don’t want the topic to be only femicide,” he said. “This issue has been manipulated a lot in the media.”


And on Monday, when asked about Fátima’s death, he sought to blame femicides on what he called the “neoliberal policies” of his predecessors.


Mexican society, he said, “fell into a decline, it was a process of progressive degradation that had to do with the neoliberal model.”


Amid the escalating violence and facing a lack of what they consider effective government response, a feminist protest movement has gained momentum in the past year and become more violent, with some protesters smashing windows of police stations and spraying graffiti on monuments.


The deaths of Fátima and Ms. Escamilla, both in the past two weeks, have injected even greater urgency into the debate surrounding gender violence and machismo and have intensified the demands for a more effective government response.


The killing of Ms. Escamilla, whose body was found on Feb. 9, was so ghoulish it managed to transcend the daily drumbeat of bloodshed and shock the nation. A man, found covered in blood and said to be her domestic partner, was arrested and confessed to the crime, the authorities said.


Adding to the outrage was the fact that photos of Ms. Escamilla’s mutilated body were leaked to tabloids, which published the images on their front pages.


On Feb. 11, Fátima went missing after she was led away from her primary school by an unidentified woman — an abduction that was captured by security cameras. The discovery of the girl’s body over the weekend, wrapped in a plastic bag and dumped next to a construction site on the outskirts of the capital, added to the rising anger.


Last Friday, protesters, most of them women, spray-painted “Femicide State” and “Not One More” on the facade and main doorway of the National Palace in Mexico.


Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, said Wednesday night on Twitter that suspects in the killing of Fátima had been detained in the State of Mexico. Several days ago, the mayor said prosecutors would seek the maximum sentence against Ms. Escamilla’s killer and called femicide “an absolutely condemnable crime.”


“Justice must be done,” Ms. Sheinbaum said.


In the lower house of the Mexican Congress on Tuesday, lawmakers approved a reform to the penal code that would increase the maximum prison sentence for a femicide conviction to 65 years from 60 years. The measure has been sent to the Senate for a vote.


Also on Tuesday, a coalition of representatives from several political parties issued a declaration condemning gender-based violence and demanding that all levels of government strengthen the fight against it.


“This is a national crisis,” Ana Patricia Peralta, a representative from Morena, Mr. López Obrador’s party, said in a speech on Tuesday. “What else needs to happen for us to accept that violence against women in our country is an epidemic that has extended to all social strata?”


A senator from the National Action Party, Josefina Vázquez Mota, filed a proposal in the Senate to create a special commission that would monitor the prosecution of femicides against minors.


But Mr. López Obrador has been seen as dismissive. To the women who spray-painted calls for change on the National Palace, for example, he said “I ask feminists, with all due respect, not to paint the doors, the walls. We are working so that there are no femicides.”


His attitude was met with scorn by critics, particularly women’s rights activists.


“If trashing monuments makes authorities look at us and listen to our demands, then we will continue to do so,” said Beatriz Belmont, a student in economics and international relations at ITAM, a Mexico City university, and a member of the Fourth Wave, a feminist student collective.


She called the president’s responses to the crisis “unacceptable and unfitting for someone who should be acting as a national leader.”


“It seems like he is closing his eyes before a reality that is not only sitting in front of him but is slapping him in the face,” Ms. Belmont said.


On Wednesday morning, however, Mr. López Obrador seemed more receptive to the protesters’ demands, applauding the congressional vote in favor of harsher prison terms and attributing it in part to societal pressure. He even drew a parallel between the protesters and leaders of the Mexican Revolution.


“That is why the participation of citizens is important,” he said. “If there hadn’t been a Revolution, we wouldn’t have the 1917 Constitution.”

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