Sect to Hand over Full List of Followers, But Doubts Remain

  • By Kim Han-soo, Yang Ji-ho

    February 28, 2020 12:11

    The secretive Shincheonji sect on Thursday promised to hand over contact details of around 60,000 trainees in addition to a list of 212,324 followers in Korea and another 33,281 overseas.

    That puts the official number of followers at 310,732, much higher than originally thought. They often hide their affiliation even from friends and family members but go around proselytizing out of their sight.

    The sect's Daegu church became a hotbed of new infections because its prayer meetings last for hours in confined spaces.

    Health officials are dispatched to shut down a Sincheonji church in Gwangju on Thursday. /Yonhap

    On Tuesday the leader, Lee Man-hee, who has declared himself the Second Coming and claims to receive direct messages from God, in a letter to his followers and a spokesman for the sect repeated the pledge to disclose the contact details of all followers. Ironically Lee himself has gone into hiding, and many followers also keep refusing to answer calls from health workers to show up for checkups.

    Experts say Shincheonji keeps meticulous tabs on followers who attend prayer meetings –- they are reportedly fingerprinted and given QR codes before being allowed to enter the church services. On Sunday, the spokesman said the sect has 245,000 followers, but it later only submitted a list of 215,000, raising suspicions about its candor.

    Meanwhile, a group calling itself "Victims of Shincheonji" filed a complaint against Lee for obstructing epidemiological studies by refusing tests for the virus and other violations like embezzlement and breach of trust.

    The group says Shincheonji claimed that it had disinfected 1,100 prayer centers nationwide but hidden the existence of 429 more.

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