Lee Man-hee

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Lee Man-hee
Born (1931-09-15) 15 September 1931 (age 92)
NationalitySouth Korean
OccupationCult leader
Korean name
Revised RomanizationI Manhui
McCune–ReischauerYi Manhŭi

Lee Man-hee (Korean이만희; Hanja李萬熙; born 15 September 1931) is a Korean church[1][2][3] leader. Lee is the founder of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a South Korean Christian group that is often described as a cult.[4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Lee was born on 15 September 1931 in Punggak-myeon, Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang Province (Keishōhoku-dō), Japanese Korea, Empire of Japan. Before founding his own religious movement, he was a member of the group known as Olive Tree and of another movement called the Tabernacle Temple [ko] (장막성전).[7]

During the Korean War, Lee served in the 7th Infantry Division of the Republic of Korea Army; after the war he returned to Punggak Village and worked as a farmer.[citation needed]

COVID-19 outbreak[edit]

On 22 February 2020, South Korea confirmed that 231 of their 433 cases of COVID-19 were from within the Shincheonji sect.[8] Lee called the coronavirus a "devil's deed" intended to stop the sect's growth, but he canceled all gatherings of his faith. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the practice of gathering followers in close quarters for religious services may have contributed to the fast spread of the disease.[9]

On 1 March 2020, Seoul mayor Park Won-soon announced that the Seoul Metropolitan Government had made a criminal complaint about Lee, asking for an investigation into him and twelve others connected to the sect on charges of murder and violations of the Disease Control Act, citing their negligence in preventing an outbreak among their parishioners and their refusal to cooperate with the government throughout the crisis.[10]

On 31 July 2020, Lee was arrested by South Korean authorities for allegedly violating the Infectious Disease and Control Act. At issue was a dispute over withholding data from the government for contact tracing, with the church asserting privacy. Lee was also charged with embezzlement and other crimes. By this time, the Shincheonji Church was being linked to more than 5,200 coronavirus infections, or 36% of South Korea’s total cases.[11][12] On 13 January 2021 Suwon District Court in Seoul acquitted Lee of violating the infectious disease laws. However Lee was convicted of embezzling 5.6 billion won ($4.7m USD) and obstruction of public affairs. Lee was sentenced to three years in prison. He remains out of jail on probation for four years.[13]


  1. ^ Rashid, Raphael (March 9, 2020). "Being Called a Cult Is One Thing, Being Blamed for an Epidemic Is Quite Another". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 16, 2020.
  2. ^ McKay, Hollie (August 20, 2020). "Conservative church claims South Korea's government is persecuting them by blaming members for coronavirus spread". Fox News.
  3. ^ "Inside the South Korean 'doomsday cult' recruiting young Black Christians in the UK". The Independent. 2022-08-09. Retrieved 2024-05-09.
  4. ^ Kopetman, Roxana (July 19, 2012). "Crystal Cathedral members angered by religious leader's event". Orange County Register.
  5. ^ Webster, Nick (May 28, 2015). "Mystery surrounds visit to UAE of alleged religious cult". The National (Abu Dhabi).
  6. ^ Bergsma, Martijn (November 17, 2014). "How I ended up in a Korean religious cult - Council of the European Union-Youth for Exchange and Understanding-participant". yeu-international.org. Archived from the original on 2014-12-23.
  7. ^ Kim, David W.; Bang, Won-il (2019). "Guwonpa, WMSCOG, and Shincheonji: Three Dynamic Grassroots Groups in Contemporary Korean Christian NRM History". Religions. 10 (3): 212. doi:10.3390/rel10030212. hdl:1885/204914..
  8. ^ McGee, Luke (22 February 2020). "A controversial religious group is at the center of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak". CNN. Retrieved 2020-02-23.
  9. ^ Kim, Min Joo (21 February 2020). "South Korean coronavirus spike linked to doomsday sect with messianic leader". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  10. ^ Cha, Sangmi (2 March 2020). "Murder probe sought for South Korea sect at center of coronavirus outbreak". Reuters. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  11. ^ "South Korea sect leader arrested over coronavirus outbreak". Reuters. Seoul. July 31, 2020. Retrieved August 1, 2020.
  12. ^ "Shincheonji: Coronavirus: South Korean Shincheonji sect leader arrested". BBC. Seoul. August 1, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  13. ^ "Shincheonji: Korean sect leader found not guilty of breaking virus law". BBC. Seoul. January 13, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.