News by email Donate


Top Stories

Most Read

Popular Videos

Lee Man-hee Banner.PNG
Lee Man-hee.PNG
World News

South Korean church sect leader acquitted of breaking Covid control laws

by Will Maule

A South Korean religious leader who was blamed for perpetuating the spread of Covid-19 infections early on in the pandemic has been found not guilty of breaking virus control laws. 

Lee Man-hee, 89, who leads the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, was thrust into the media spotlight last February after health officials connected his congregation to a massive outbreak in Covid-19. At one point, the church was linked to more than 35 per cent of the country's total cases. 

In August, the controversial leader was arrested and accused of withholding information about the group's members from government contact tracers. In addition, he was charged with embezzlement and holding unapproved religious events. Lee insisted that while he was concerned for the privacy of his members, he never hid information from the authorities. 

On Wednesday, he was found not guilty of violating the country's infectious disease act.

"We cannot punish someone on charges of obstructing antivirus efforts for leaving out certain data, when (the request) had more to do with data collection than an actual epidemiological survey," said Judge Kim Mi-kyung in the ruling.

Despite being acquitted of the charges relating to the act, Lee was found guilty of embezzling 5.6bn won and obstruction of public affairs, and was handed a three-year suspended sentence. The court specified that Lee would undergo a four-year probation period, meaning that he will stay out of prison on the condition that he does not re-offend during this time. 

Shincheonji Church said it welcomed the verdict, but added that it will be appealing against the embezzlement decision. 

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus was founded in 1984 and is widely considered to be a cult due to Lee's belief that he is a saviour figure, or "the promised pastor", who will take 144,000 of his followers to heaven with him after Christ's Second Coming. 

The church boasts around 230,000 members, with smaller gatherings in various countries across the globe.

As infections linked to the church began to skyrocket last year, Lee made an emotional public apology.

"Although it was not intentional, many people have been infected," he said at the time. "We put our utmost efforts, but were unable to prevent it all."

Continue the conversation on our Facebook page

A Monthly Gift Of $11 Makes A World Of Difference

In a world of fake news there’s never been a greater need for quality Christian journalism. Premier’s mission is to provide the Church with the most up to date and relevant news, told from a Christian perspective. But we can’t do it without you.

Unlike many websites we haven't put up a paywall — we want to keep our journalism free at the point of need and as open as we can. Premier’s news output takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. No one in the USA is sharing news like we are across radio, magazines and online so please help us to continue that today.

For a monthly gift of $11 or more we’d also be able to send you a free copy of the brand new Premier Bible, a wonderful Anglicised version of the NLT packed with exclusive bonus content, reading plan and resources to help you get the most out of scripture.

Your monthly support will make a world of difference. Thank you.

Set up a monthly gift

Related Articles

Sign up to our newsletter to stay informed with news from a Christian perspective.

News by email