S. Korean church leader faces murder charge for virus spread

South Korea as of Monday, March 2, has 4,212 cases of coronavirus and 22 deaths. (Shutterstock)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — As of Monday, March 2, South Korea has reported 4,212 cases of coronavirus infections and 22 deaths, but just two weeks earlier, the number of cases barely stood at 30.

Patient number 31, a 61-year old member of Shincheongji religious group’s Daegu sect is believed to have started the outbreak given that 60% of the current cases in South Korea are directly-linked to the Daegu faction.

Now, the South Korean government spearheaded by Seoul mayor Park Won-soon is suing founder Lee Man-hee and twelve other church leaders.

The charges against the leadership include a failure to adhere to prevention and management of infectious diseases, injury, and murder. Members of the church — which is often called a doomsday cult — claim that these charges are the culmination of a long-standing witch hunt against the group.

Many members since the outbreak fear that their existing persecution would increase as a result of the negative media coverage, which along with increased risk of coronavirus makes them victims, not persecutors. That said, critics of the group including ex-members believe the church’s secretive and manipulative behavior is directly to blame for the outbreak.

Members are paid — or punished if they fail — to bring in new recruits, and the new-recruits do not know until much later that they have been recruited at all. Most new-recruits believe they are attending hobby-related associations which are in reality Shincheongji recruitment missions.

For this reason, new recruits have frequent contact with Shincheongji members and could unknowingly have spread the coronavirus even after initial reports of the church-linked outbreak.