SUVA, Fiji — High-ranking members of South Korea's "Grace Road Cult" will be kicked out of Fiji, immigration authorities said Thursday, as the government cracks down on the powerful religious sect.
Grace Road Church founder Shin Ok-ju prophesied that South Korea would be doomed by famine and disaster, persuading hundreds of followers in 2014 to start a new life in tropical Fiji.
The movement quickly established political and commercial clout in its new home, snapping up swathes of agricultural land and building a sprawling network of successful companies.
But it was also dogged by claims of bizarre and violent rituals, with Shin being imprisoned by South Korean authorities in 2019 on a string of criminal charges.
Fiji Home Affairs Minister Pio Tikoduadua said Interpol had urged Fiji's previous government to arrest senior members of the "Grace Road Cult" -- but this request had been ignored for years.
"In July 2018, red notices were published by Interpol referring to these individuals as fugitives wanted for prosecution," he told reporters.
"All of these were ignored by the former government."
Tikoduadua said seven Grace Road members, including Shin's son Daniel Kim, had been declared "prohibited immigrants" and would be sent back to South Korea.
Two fugitive Grace Road members had so far evaded police and "remain at large", Tikoduadua added.
A South Korean court in 2019 heard harrowing allegations about the experiences of former Grace Road Church members.
"The victims suffered helplessly from collective beatings and experienced not only physical torture but also severe fear and considerable mental shock," according to a judgement by the Anyang sub-court of the Suwon District Court.
"Heavy punishment is inevitable against illegal acts carried out in the name of religion," it added.
Some former followers told journalists that those who attempted to leave the church were punished with severe public beatings known as "ground threshings".
© Agence France-Presse