SEOUL – The leader of a South Korean doomsday cult has been arrested for allegedly holding some 400 followers captive in Fiji by subjecting them to violence and barbaric rituals, a police official said Wednesday.
Shin Ok-ju, founder of the Grace Road Church, and three other cult leaders were arrested when they arrived at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport last week.
“Pastor Shin and the three others face charges of using violence in forcing followers to stay in Fiji,” a police official said.
A doomsday prophet, Shin 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 were allegedly subjected to beatings and brutal rituals purportedly aimed at driving out evil spirits.
Some followers who escaped the farm told journalists that those who attempted to leave the church were subjected to severe public beatings known as “ground thrashings.”
“A son beat his father 100 to 200 times at a ground thrashing session,” a former follower told a South Korean TV program.
“Another congregant was hit more than 600 times and he died after returning home,” a witness said.
Christian-inspired cults have been mushrooming in South Korea where around half the population are Protestants or Catholics.
A cult leader who claimed to be the messiah was arrested in May in Seoul for raping at least seven female congregants, prosecutors said.