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[From the Scene] Shincheonji victims ask Moon to investigate religious group

The group National Solidarity for Sincheonji Victims holds a press briefing in front of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The group National Solidarity for Sincheonji Victims holds a press briefing in front of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)


National Solidarity for Shincheonji Victims on Thursday asked President Moon Jae-in to order an investigation into the religious group Shincheonji.

“We are filing charges against Shincheonji and also urging the president to have a meeting with us,” the group’s head Shin Kang-shik said at a press briefing held in front of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul.

Shin explained that he was holding the briefing in front of the presidential office because the organization had already filed charges on Feb. 27, but there had been no progress made by prosecutors.

Shin added that the group is filing the same charges against Shincheonji as it did last month -- embezzlement and breaking the law related to preventing the spread of infectious disease-- but with some additional information, including on evidence and the people involved in the alleged crimes.

“Shincheonji collects money through the 12 different tribes across the nation every month from churches under each tribe. The amount that these tribes report to the headquarters was around 348 billion won ($295 million) in 2018 and 384 billion won last year,” Shin said. “The problem is that this religious group does not have an auditing system, so in this process, embezzlement can easily occur,” Shin said.

“In late 2018, Shincheonji headquarters also forced its believers who failed to bring new people to the church to pay 1.1 million won in the form of a fine. The headquarters said that the money would be awarded to the person who brought the most believers and gave it to its head Lee Man-hee,” he added.

Regarding how Shincheonji is dealing with the spread of coronavirus, the National Solidarity for Shincheonji Victims says the group is not transparent.

“We cannot trust the believers‘ list that Shincheonji provided and cannot wait anymore for the cooperation of Shincheonji and its leaders,” Shin said. “The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also received reports that some of the people on the list provided by Shincheonji are no longer believers or were never a believer, which makes it hard to trust the list.”

During the press briefing, some of those who call themselves victims of Shincheonji also shared their experiences in the religious group and urged a governmental investigation.

“I found out that my two daughters became Shincheonji followers and quit their jobs and dropped out of school,” Kim Gui-ja, 54, said. “My daughters said life in this world is no longer important because the world will be reorganized among Shincheonji believers. They also said Lee Man-hee is God and believing him can lead to eternal life.”

Kim argued that Shinchoenji is causing social problems by making people disconnect from the world by brainwashing them, as was done with her daughters. “They are making the believers run away from home, drop out of school and give up their jobs. I wonder if our government knows this,” Kim said.

“I became a believer in Shincheonji when I was only 17. I spent all my high school life in Shincheonji. I was able to get out with my parent’s help,” said Ahn So-young, a former follower of the group. Ahn said there are also many minors in Shincheonji who are brainwashed and asked for the government’s help.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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