Jiyul Sunim is a South Korean Buddhist nun, belonging to the Jogye Order, the largest in Korean Buddhism. She garnered national and international attention for her environmental activism, which has included dramatic and controversial methods such as a series of fasts-to-the-death.
She has fasted a combined 200 days on water, salt and occasional tea. The latest of her four fasts ended in February 2005 on the 100th day. She had gone on this fast to hold President Roh Moo-hyun to his 2002 election promise to halt and re-assess a controversial tunnel project, part of a network of high speed train lines. The track between Seoul and Busan was planned to run through Mt. Cheonseong. She and environmentalist groups assert that the project poses a threat to the eco-system of the mountain (which is also a home to her nunnery). In 2003, she prostrated herself 3,000 times a day for 43 days in front of Busan’s City Hall.
She was also part of a class action suit on behalf of the clawed salamander (Hynobius leechi), as a representative for the 30 rare species on the mountain. Though 175,000 people signed a supporting petition, a court approved the project, prompting her to set out on the fourth fast. Major environmental, human rights and religious organizations organized candlelight vigils, support petitions and marathon prayers, the making of prayer quilts and paper salamanders and solidarity fasts across the country. When the then Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan agreed to halt the blasting and conduct a re-assessment together with citizens’ groups, she ended her fast. Another outcome was a bipartisan parliamentary committee that called for a major re-thinking of government development policy.
Widely reported in the mainstream press and in the popular alternative media, her actions provoked outpouring of support as as well as fierce public controversies over the ethical and long-term political implications of a protest technique that has an element of blackmail. Her diary was published (in Korean) in 2004.