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SINGAPORE, Nov 12 — The police have arrested 21 people who are believed to be members of a local chapter of a South Korea-based church that has been accused of being a cult.
The arrests were made after members of the unregistered local chapter of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ) resumed their activities covertly, following the repatriation in February of five key members, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday.
The religious sect drew global media attention earlier this year after being linked to a sudden spike in coronavirus infections in South Korea.
The 21 arrested here — nine men and 12 women aged between 21 and 49 — had allegedly “re-engaged” in activities connected to the church, MHA said.
This came after the group’s entities in Singapore were dissolved.MHA said that aside from the arrests, another group of nine women aged between 22 and 52 — as well as two men aged 23 and 36 — are assisting the police with the ongoing investigations.
Background of the church
Founded by South Korean Lee Man-Hee in 1984, the church has attracted accusations of being a cult in several countries due to its unorthodox teachings, MHA said.
“Based on testimonies of former members, Lee has claimed to be the second coming of Christ who would bring 144,000 people to heaven with him on the Day of Judgement,” MHA said.
The ministry added that Lee has also claimed to be the only person who can interpret the Bible and that the church allegedly regards all other churches and pastors as “belonging to Satan”.
“SCJ teaches that it is acceptable to use deceit and lies if it serves God’s purposes. It has been accused of infiltrating and disrupting established Korean churches by using deception and secrecy to trick people into becoming involved with them,” MHA said.
Investigations into church activities
MHA said that it had earlier investigated the SCJ chapter here in February for using “deceptive recruitment methods”.
The ministry noted that the methods are similar to the SCJ in South Korea — to exert a controlling influence over Christian youth and young adults in Singapore and to conceal its existence from family members and non-SCJ contacts.
From its investigations, MHA repatriated five South Koreans in February this year and the group’s entities were dissolved.Members of Singapore's chapter were also issued warnings to stop further involvement in SCJ's activities or face further action from the authorities.
“In spite of the actions taken, the local SCJ chapter has resumed its activities covertly, under the direction of its South Korean parent chapter.
As such, (the) Criminal Investigation Department is investigating members of the local SCJ chapter for potential offences under the Societies Act,” MHA said.
If found guilty of being members of an unlawful society, those arrested may be jailed up to three years or be fined S$5,000 (RM15,306), or both. ― TODAY