Korean entertainment has already been caught up in the fallout from the In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal documentary that’s primarily about the JMS cult, but a boycott against Synnara Record is perhaps the one K-pop fans themselves can do something about.
Founded in the 80s, Synnara Record was a massively popular distributor in the 80s-90s, holding as much as 30% of the market share back then. They’ve declined since thanks to the move to digital, but it’s still a label popular with K-pop fans due to their low prices, ease of organizing bulk buys, and for the meet-and-greets they setup.
Now though, they’ve come under fire after the documentary widely publicized the connection between the company and the Aga Dongsan (Baby Garden) cult, as it’s used to provide revenue for cult founder Kim Ki Soon. The cult predicts a coming apocalypse that could only be survived by her followers, and she referred to herself as baby, claiming to be made without sin. Unfortunately, the reason the company was able to provide such cheap prices and what not is that it relied on cult labor to power it.
Founded by Kim Ki-soon in 1982, Aga Dongsan is a religious community consisting of collective farms and factories in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. It made headlines in 1996 after about 30 members filed a petition with prosecutors asking that the cult be investigated for exploitation of their assets and labor. They also said they suspected cult leaders were involved in murder.
A group of 297 believers donated their wealth to the cult and worked at the group’s farms, factories and construction projects free of charge for nearly 20 years.
Back in 1998, Kim was convicted for tax evasion, embezzlement, and exploitation.
After a two-year probe, Kim, now 68, was convicted in 1998 of tax evasion, embezzlement and exploitation, receiving four years of imprisonment and a 5.6 billion won ($5.4 million) fine. The Supreme Court, however, acquitted Kim of murder charges, citing lack of evidence.
That had seemingly given hope that the company was no longer associated with the cult, but netizens have recently found out that Kim Ki Sook was still in charge and that the cult’s secretary Shin Ok Hee is now the company’s CEO. As if to confirm that reality to a bigger audience, the cult sued to stop the distribution of the episodes talking about it.
Baby Garden filed for an injunction to ban the broadcast of “In the Name of God” on Monday, claiming episodes five and six of the documentary that discuss the group contain false information. The request also demanded Netflix pay the religious organization 10 million won ($7,600) every day in compensation if the broadcast is not suspended.
If that wasn’t enough reason to boycott, the documentary also covers the death of a 7-year-old boy, who was allegedly forced to eat pig shit, kept in a pig pen, and beaten to death by cult members after being told by Kim Ki Soon the child was possessed by Satan. The death was declared a heart attack in court, after his mother testified in the cult’s favor. Kim Ki Soon’s involvement in two other deaths under questionable circumstances were also dismissed in court due to lack of evidence, one being an orchard manager allegedly killed for not following orders and the other being a 21-year-old woman who was beaten to death by her parents for dating the cult leader’s son.
While there isn’t frequently much we can do about major issues in Korea as international fans of K-pop, it seems like not supporting Synnara Record is the bare minimum given the plethora of options available to buy K-pop from today.
That said, one of the problems that I can see is trying to root out the popular services that use Synnara, so if you know of any please feel free to let everybody know.