The leader of a South Korean doomsday cult is being held by police, who say she’s holding 400 of her followers as slaves in Fiji.
In 2014, Pastor Shin Ok-ju predicted imminent famine in South Korea and convinced 400 of her followers to wait out the apocalypse in the one place they would be safe: Fiji.
According to South Korean police, the Grace Road Church seized their passports when they arrived, forced them to work and enforced discipline with brutal rituals. Five members who escaped told authorities that church members were forced to beat each other as so called “Guardians” looked on. One former follower told South Korean television that a father was forced to hit his son more than 100 times.
According to RNZ Pacific, Grace Road Church established a productive rice plantation on fifty acres of land south of Suva, then expanded into a chain of restaurants, a laundromat, a hardware store and a construction company.
Last year, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama presented Grace Road with the Prime Minister’s International Business Excellence Award. The church also won government contracts even as reports emerged that might have sent up red flags. In 2014, Grace Road Church was ostracized as heretical by South Korea’s Christian churches. And in 2016, Fiji’s largest congregation, the Methodist Church, warned its members about what it described as a cult.
In a statement, Grace Road Church denied all the charges, which it labeled slander and blasphemy. The government of Fiji has made no comment, except to take down a picture posted to Twitter that showed Prime Minister Bainimara posing with church officials at the awards ceremony.