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Cult Leader Pushed Followers to 'Paradise.' Only It Wasn't

Shin Ok-ju jailed 6 years for assault, child abuse
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2019 10:30 AM CDT
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Shin Ok-ju, also known as Reverend Esther, speaks at Grace Road Church in Fiji on March 1, 2017.   (Wikimedia/Coverly)

(Newser) – A doomsday cult leader who told followers they could avoid impending war with an escape to Fiji has been jailed for six years. In 2014, some 400 people followed South Korea's Shin Ok-ju to what she claimed was "the only paradise land written in the Bible" and a "kingdom of 1,000 years where we can live in eternity" free from earthquakes, wars, and famine. CNN reports followers ordered to pay $25,000 each for a visa then had their passports seized and suffered violent beatings. Videos show Shin smacking members in the face, throwing them to the ground, or chopping off their hair in an effort to "drive out evil spirits," per the Guardian. The founder of Grace Road Church was detained as she flew into Seoul last July. She was convicted Monday of nine charges, including assault, fraud, imprisonment, child abuse, and ordering child neglect.

Victims "had lost their family or suffered mental trauma," the judge said at Shin's sentencing hearing, noting child victims "had suffered greatly in proper growth and personal development." Five other church officials were also sentenced. In a statement earlier in the week, the court had noted "heavy punishment is inevitable against illegal acts carried out in the name of religion." Yet a former cult member tells the BBC that Shin "should be behind bars for a much longer time." Still, she hopes the ruling "encourages the Fijian government to ... disassociate themselves with the organization." Grace Road Church was actually bestowed a business excellence award by Fiji's prime minister, per the BBC. An opposition leader has called for an investigation into alleged links to the government as the cult continues to operate various businesses in the island nation. (Read more cult stories.)

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