An officer at a religious society at Salford University has spoken of his concern over allegations of members of a South Korean cult operating on campus.
Zayd Abid-Waheed, treasurer and ex-officer of the university’s Islamic Society, was shocked by BBC revelations that a 20-year-old student had been targeted by the Shincheonji Church of Jesus organisation in 2019.
Referred to only as ‘Jess’, the undergraduate physiotherapy student was approached on campus by two volunteers, offering a ‘coffee with God’.
Quoted on the BBC’s website, ‘Jess’ explained how the church preyed upon her vulnerability after the loss of her Dad. Speaking to the BBC, she said: “It was just absolute mind control. I’d gone through a massive loss and at that point I was just so vulnerable.”
She added how the group set up a ‘buddy system’ to monitor ‘Jess’ at all times. She continued: “It’s just surveillance really. I became a completely different person. My mindset was completely different, I’d lost motivation in terms of my studies.”
It wasn’t until a lecturer noticed a change in her behaviour that the University took action, and the student was forced to leave Salford.
Mr Abid-Waheed said: “It’s shocking that they’ve been able to ingrain themselves into the University, at that level.
“This seems to be a case of people who aren’t affiliated with the University taking advantage of open buildings at the university and vulnerable people.”
The group is believed to have booked out publicly accessible rooms at the University for ‘one-to-one’ bible study sessions.
Shincheonji’s practices have been criticised, since its formation in 1984 by leader Lee Man-Hee. Ex-followers of the church have shared stories of recruits abandoning livelihoods and leaving families to become deeply involved in the movement.
Ironically, Salford is the only University in the UK to offer courses relating to the psychology of cults and indoctrination.
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Abid-Waheed remembered the group targeting students as far back as 2016. He said: “We are here as representatives of our faith and our main goal is to look after students of other faiths and offer them a safe, welcoming environment in their universities.”
He added: “If this situation had occurred and had been handled through the proper channels to deal with grief, there would be people who can properly safeguard.
“All societies are put through safeguarding training and have a wellbeing officer who is properly trained in mental health.”
‘Jess’ completed her course remotely and has now graduated. Shincheonji has denied any allegations of manipulative behaviour. The University and Shincheonji Church of Jesus have been contacted for statements on the situation.