Shocking footage showing a South Korean pastor beating her followers and ordering them to beat one another has emerged as Korean police investigate claims that she ran a cult in Fiji, forcing people to work without pay and endure violent rituals.
The footage appears to show violent assaults on members of the South Korean Grace Road Church.
Pastor Shin Ok-ju was arrested last month along with three other church leaders when they landed at Incheon airport just outside of Seoul.
Roughly 400 of her followers had moved to Fiji since 2014 after Shin predicted a famine would come across the Korean peninsula and that Fiji was a promised land where they could survive.
However, once the group arrived, former members claim their passports were confiscated and they were made to work without pay and perform ritual beatings on each other, called “threshing floors”.
The footage, shared with the Guardian by South Korean police as they prepared to go to Fiji to continue investigations into the group, shows some of the beatingsthat took place in the Korean branch of the church. Followers say the assaults continued in Fiji.
The footage was originally broadcast in an episode of weekly South Korean television programme Unanswered Questions, on the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), in August.
In several videos, Shin is shown calling members of the church forward during her sermons and then hitting them on the face, pulling and cutting their hair and throwing them to the ground.
In one video, Shin is seen instructing a girl, who appears to be a teenager, to slap a woman, believed to be her mother. After the girl hits her softly, Shin admonishes her, saying “you’re hitting the cheeks of the enemy”. The girl goes on to hit the woman 25 times. Later, the woman is shown repeatedly hitting the girl and forcefully and pulling her hair.
In a lengthy statement, a spokesperson for the Grace Road Group did not deny beatings occurred. The spokesperson said Shin Ok-ju “has biblically rebuked people by publicly reproving them so that they would turn back and no longer sin”.
“Threshing floor is written throughout the whole Bible … Grace Road Church alone has carried out the perfectly biblical threshing floor,” said the spokesperson.
The footage also includes allegations from witnesses that a man in his 70s, who was a member of the church and had travelled to Fiji, was subject to a beating in which he was hit 600 to 700 times by a number of church members over several hours.
The programme alleged that when he went to work the next day he could barely walk and was covered in bruises. He later returned to South Korea and eventually saw a doctor who told the television programme that the man had suffered a subdural haematoma. The man died a year later.
Grace Road, which says it is not a cult, denies any connection between the man’s death and any alleged beating.
“If the man indeed died from being beaten hundreds of times, would his wife, his son, his daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren stay happily in the church that supposedly beat their husband and father?” the church said in a statement.
Arum Song, the son of the man who died, told the programme his father died from an unrelated illness and that while his father had participated in the threshing floor, he had merely slapped himself, and was not beaten by anyone else.
One of Arum Song’s friends in Australia, where Song had lived since he was a teenager, told the Guardian he had known Arum since the late 1980s but they had lost touch eight years ago.
“The family left the church that they’d been going for years and started going to meetings and gatherings. After that I heard they sold all their properties, the family sold everything they had in Sydney and basically went back to Korea to join this group, that’s when my alarm bell went off but I thought it’s too late,” the man said.