- Earlier last year Fiji government said that workers associated with the Grace Road Group have not violated any local laws.
- The pastor convinced her followers to move to Fiji in 2014, claiming they would be safe there from imminent natural disasters
- Once they arrived, their passports were confiscated and many of them were allegedly subjected to beatings aimed at driving out evil spirits
A South Korean doomsday cult leader has been sentenced to six years in prison for detaining her followers in Fiji and subjecting them to violence and barbaric rituals. Shin Ok-ju, founder of the Grace Road Church, convinced her followers to move to Fiji in 2014, claiming they would be safe there from imminent natural disasters.
Once they arrived, their passports were confiscated and many of them were allegedly subjected to beatings and brutal rituals purportedly aimed at driving out evil spirits. Shin was arrested last July.
Some followers, who escaped the Fiji compound, told journalists that those who attempted to leave the church were subjected to severe public beatings known as “ground thrashing”.
“The accused has absolute authority over the followers and all criminal acts including ground thrashing were unable to be carried out without her directions. Her responsibility is very heavy,” the Anyang sub-court of the Suwon District Court, in a province neighbouring the South Korean capital, said in a statement on Monday.
The District Court spokeswoman, Judge Kang Yun-hye, said five other church officials were also meted punishment, ranging from a suspended sentence to 42 months in prison, she said.
They are being treated as if they were farm oxen rather than human beings.Shin’s follower
“This is outrageous! Tell them (the victims) to stop lying. Knock it off! We are all angry”, a female follower shouted at journalists, when they tried to get a comment from her.
Some 400 followers are in effect kept in captivity in Fiji, with their passports reportedly taken away by senior church leaders. They spend their days performing forced labour and attending evening sermons, the court said.
They are also fearful of being subjected to public beatings, which the court said were used as “means to control the victims’.
“A son beat his father 100 to 200 times at a ground thrashing session,” a former follower told a South Korean TV programme. Another congregant was hit more than 600 times and he died after returning home, another witness said.
“They are being treated as if they were farm oxen rather than human beings … It was like hell there,” a follower said on JTBC news programme.
JTBC footages showed Shin slapping hard the face of a female follower, shouting abusive words and grabbing her by the hair.
While mainstream churches in Fiji have long accused Grace Road of being a cult, the church raised eyebrows by being awarded lucrative government contracts, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said.
It has built a business group in Fiji, opened a chain of restaurants across the country and taken home one of the Prime Minister’s business awards for a rice farming venture and the church’s construction arm is extending the President’s residence and building a new Prime Minister’s office.
The group has also helped with rebuilding efforts for those affected by Cyclone Winston in 2016.
About half of South Korea’s 50 million population identify as Protestants or Catholics but several million belong to groups that promote cultish behaviour and fringe beliefs.A cult leader, who claimed to be the messiah, was sentenced to 15 years in prison at an appeal court for raping eight female congregants.
Source: South China Morning Post