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South Korea: Proposed Passport Regulation May Affect Missionaries’ “Aggressive” Activities Abroad

(Feb. 24, 2011) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) in South Korea plans to revise the passport enforcement decree, it was reported on February 15, 2011. The Passport Act states that MFAT may impose restrictions on the issuance or reissuance of a passport for one to three years, if an embassy or consulate abroad has given notice to MFAT that an applicant for a passport engaged in unlawful acts in foreign countries and that these acts have substantially compromised national dignity. (Passport Act, Act No. 8990, Mar. 28, 2008, amended by Act No. 9799, Oct. 19, 2009, art. 12, ¶ 3, item 2.) However, currently, the Enforcement Decree of the Passport Act does not have a provision that offers more detailed information on the situations to which the restrictions apply. (Enforcement Decree off the Passport Act, Presidential Decree No. 20857, June 25, 2008, last amended by Presidential Decree No. 21914, Dec. 30, 2009; Ha-won Yi, Gaikobu to purotesutanto kei dantai no “8 nen senso” shuketsu ka [End of “8 Year War” between MFAT and Protestant Group], CHOSUN ILBO (Feb. 15, 2011),

Under the proposed revision, those Koreans who commit serious crimes, such as murder, abroad will not be issued new passports for three years. Those who break a law abroad and prompt the foreign country's protest or request for an apology from the Korean government will not obtain a new passport for one year. (Han-su Kim & Te-hun Yi, Sekai dai 2 i no “senkyo taikoku” kankoku [The World's Second Largest “Exporter of Missionaries” Korea], CHOSUN ILBO (Feb. 15, 2011),

Although MFAT stated that it was not motivated by religion, Korean missionaries' “aggressive” activities in Muslim countries could be one of its concerns. The most serious incident was an abduction of a Korean missionary group by the Taliban in 2007. Two members of the group were killed. MFAT insists its new rule is designed for the safety of missionaries who go to dangerous areas. (Editorial, Passport Rule Change, THE KOREA TIMES (Feb. 15, 2011), It is said that competition among Korean churches contributes to their aggressive activities overseas. (Jung-Woon Suh, Mission of the Korean Church, RELIGION ONLINE, (last visited Feb. 18, 2011).)