South Korean sect leader acquitted of obstructing COVID-19 response

Seoul, Jan 13 (efe-epa).- A South Korean court Wednesday acquitted the leader of a Christian sect that was facing trial for his alleged responsibility in obstructing the work of the Government to manage a large outbreak of COVID-19 in the religious group.

Lee Man-hee, 89, founder of Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, as the Christian sect is called, was arrested in August. He was accused of misleading authorities about the size and location of the group’s meetings in February, when it became the epicenter of the then-first major COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

The man had been out on bail since November.

The South Korean prosecutor’s office had asked for five years in prison and a fine of 3 million won ($ 2,740) for allegedly obstructing authorities’ efforts to contain the spread of the pathogen.

“We cannot punish someone for obstructing anti-virus efforts for omitting certain data, when (the request for information) had more to do with data collection than an epidemiological survey,” Judge Kim Mi-kyung said, of Suwon District Court, according Yonhap news agency.

Some 4,000 worshipers of Shincheonji, mainly from the city of Daegu (about 230 kilometers southeast of Seoul), were infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and became the origin of an outbreak that registered more than 5,000 infections in total.

South Korea had recorded a total of 70,212 cases as of Wednesday, according to figures from the Agency for Disease Control and Prevention (KDCA.)

The Shincheonji founder had also been accused of embezzling church funds and organizing unauthorized religious events at local government facilities between 2015 and 2019.

The court found him partially guilty of both charges and issued him a sentence of three years in prison which will be suspended for four years.

Lee has denied all charges against him. EFE-EPA


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