The leader of a South Korean doomsday cult who held about 400 followers captive in Fiji and subjected them to violence aimed at driving out evil spirits was sentenced to six years in prison Monday, officials said.
Shin Ok-ju, founder of Grace Road Church, persuaded her followers in 2014 to move to Fiji, where she said they’d be safe from an imminent natural disaster and global famine. Once they arrived, Shin allegedly confiscated her followers’ passports, effectively holding them captive to work on large plots of land leased by the church outside the capital city of Suva, BBC News reported.
Followers who tried to leave the group were punished with severe public beatings called “ground threshings,” a Singapore-based English language news channel, Channel News Asia (CNA), reported. Shin also routinely subjected followers to mass beatings meant to drive out evil spirits.
A South Korean court found Shin guilty of several criminal charges, including violence, child abuse and fraud.
"The victims suffered helplessly from collective beatings and experienced not only physical torture but also severe fear and considerable mental shock," a sub-court of the Suwon District Court wrote.
"The victims suffered helplessly from collective beatings and experienced not only physical torture but also severe fear and considerable mental shock."
"Heavy punishment is inevitable against illegal acts carried out in the name of religion," the court added in its conviction.
Shin’s Grace Road Church was granted several construction contracts from the Fijian government, which gave her the opportunity to grow a business empire using her cult followers’ labor. The Fijian prime minister presented the church with a business excellence award for its economic success, BBC News reported.
Grace Road Church has been denounced as a heretic organization by most mainstream Christian groups in South Korea. Christian inspired cult groups are becoming more popular in South Korea where more than 25 percent of the population are Catholic or Protestant, CNA reported.
In May, a South Korea appeals court sentenced a cult leader who convinced people he was the messiah to 16 years behind bars for raping multiple female followers.