In Brief

South Korea cult chief faces homicide probe over coronavirus

More than half of nation's infections involve members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The head of a religious sect in South Korea could face a homicide investigation over some of the country's coronavirus deaths.

As South Korea battles the worst coronavirus outbreak outside China, authorities in the capital Seoul have asked prosecutors to charge Lee Man-hee, the founder of the fringe Christian group the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, and 11 others.

Prosectors accuse them of hiding the names of some members as officials tried to track patients.

The BBC says the complaint reflects “growing public anger towards the religious group” whose “leader Lee Man-hee claims he is the Messiah”.

However, one member defended the sect to The Guardian, saying: “Our church didn’t invent the virus. This is just an excuse to shift blame. Throughout history, minority groups have always been blamed for bad things happening in society. The same is happening to us.”

The country has reported 3,730 cases and 21 deaths, with more than half of all infections involving members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

Members of the sect infected one another in the southern city of Daegu last month, before spreading out around the country.

Former sect member Duhyen Kim told CNN that illness has never been considered an excuse to miss services and that members would have to physically swipe in and out of services with a special card.

“The culture was, even though you're sick you come in on Sunday. If you're so sick you can't come Sunday, you have to come on Monday or Tuesday - you have to make up for the time,” he says.

He said followers would sit on the floor during hours-long services “packed together like sardines”.

In a statement, the group said: “We are sanitising every church and annex buildings all across the nation, including Daegu branch. We will actively participate in disease prevention activity, following the government's measure.”

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