The leader of a South Korean doomsday cult was sentenced to six years of prison on Wednesday for holding her followers captive in Fiji and subjecting them to violence.

Shin Ok-ju, who founded the Grace Road Church, convinced 400 people to move to Fiji in 2014, claiming that they would be safe from an imminent natural disaster.

Once their passports were taken away, many of them reported being beaten to “drive out evil spirits”, the BBC reported.

Shin was arrested last July.

On Monday, a South Korean court found Shin guilty on several criminal charges including violence, child abuse and fraud.

A sub-court of the Suwon District Court said, “The victims suffered helplessly from collective beatings and experienced not only physical torture but also severe fear and a considerable mental shock”.

“Heavy punishment is inevitable against illegal acts carried out in the name of religion,” it said.

Five other church officials were also sentenced. There has been no comment from the church.

The church had leased land near the capital Suva and built a large business empire with labour provided by Shin’s followers.

It won several construction contracts from the Fijian government and a business excellence award from the prime minister.

Several million people in South Korea belong to groups that promote fringe beliefs and interest in these groups is growing, according to reports.