Twenty-one members of a controversial South Korean sect have been arrested in Singapore and accused of operating illegally despite being warned by the police, the Home Affairs ministry announced yesterday.
Ranging in age from 22 to 31, they were arrested Monday on charges of belonging to an “unlawful society” and engaging in improper activities connected to South Korea’s Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle, the ministry said in a statement. The nationalities of those arrested were not disclosed.
“Preliminary investigations revealed that they had allegedly re-engaged in activities connected to the unregistered local chapter of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ), which is based in South Korea,” it said.
Religious groups drawing 10 or more members must register with the authorities.
The nine men and 12 women were members of a local branch of the church, which drew scrutiny in South Korea earlier this year when thousands of its members contracted the coronavirus due to frequent, unregulated gatherings. Critics describe it as a doomsday cult.
In February, the ministry began investigating the church’s activities which it alleged include deceptive recruiting methods, manipulation and secrecy. Home Affairs found at the time that the group had opened a Singaporean front company in 2016 and had grown to about 100 local members, both locals and foreigners.
Five South Koreans who held key positions in the Singapore branch were deported earlier this year amid complaints over their recruiting practices. Remaining members were warned to cease activities, which the ministry said they ignored.
“In spite of the actions taken, the local …chapter has resumed its activities covertly, under the direction of its South Korean parent chapter,” the ministry added, saying its investigation was looking into potential violations of the Societies Act.
It noted that 11 other individuals associated with the group are assisting the police investigation.
The church has more than 300,000 registered members, according to South Korea’s health ministry. It was founded in 1984 in South Korea by Lee Man-Hee, who claims to be the second coming of Christ capable of bringing 144,000 people with him to heaven on Judgment Day. Now 89, he presents himself as the only person able to interpret the Bible and urges his followers to regard all other churches as Satanic.
Those convicted under the Societies Act face up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of S$5,000.
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