Authorities in Singapore arrested 21 members of an unregistered chapter of the South Korean Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a controversial group that has been tagged as being cult-like.
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs on Nov. 11, said those arrested belong to an unlawful society, which is also known as the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.
Founded by South Korean national Lee Man-hee, 88, in 1984, Shincheonji has unorthodox and heretical teachings.
A statement from the ministry said that Lee’s sect teaches that it is acceptable to use deceit and lies if it serves God’s purposes.
“It has been accused of infiltrating and disrupting established Korean churches by using deception and secrecy to trick people into becoming involved with them,” said the ministry.
In February, the ministry deported five South Korean nationals who held key positions in the local Shincheonji chapter.
Members of the local chapter have been issued warnings and told to stop involvement in the group’s activities.
In Singapore, anyone convicted of being a member of an unlawful society may be jailed up to three years or fined up to $5,000, or both.
The ministry said it will not allow members of unlawful societies or persons associated with them “to threaten Singapore’s public safety, peace and good order.”
COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea
Shincheonji was at the center of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea after a 61-year-old member refused to test for the coronavirus and attended church services twice. During the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak, its members refused to cooperate with authorities and hampered efforts to trace and contain the virus.
Infection figures in the area later increased dramatically. By late February, Shincheonji accounted for at least 122 confirmed cases of the virus in the country, out of a total of more than 200.
Six months later, more than 5,000 of the sect’s members were infected, making up 36 percent of the total COVID-19 cases in South Korea in August.
Lee was later arrested for allegedly withholding information about his members and gatherings from contact tracers. He was held in detention on Aug. 1 and was granted bail on Nov. 12.