‘Cult leader’ charged after student, 25, starved to death while doing 70-day fast

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A yoga teacher is facing manslaughter and cult exploitation charges after one of his young pupils starved to death while undergoing a 70-day fast.

Mr Li had been living at the yoga retreat and care home for two years.

He had eaten nothing and drank only water for 54 days before he was found dead in his room by his mother, who worked at the retreat in order to fund her son’s stay.

The 25-year-old is said to have been recommended the “fasting treatment” for 70 days in order to cure “emotional instability”, his father told Shanghai-based news outlet The Paper.

Liu Shanglin, founder of the Sun-Moon Canyon National Forest Park Wellness Centre was formally charged with organising and exploiting cult beliefs, deceiving others and causing death, prosecutors in the city of Tieli, in north-eastern China said.

Two of Mr Liu’s business partners were remanded on bail, while no fewer than 16 officials have been given warnings by the city’s government watchdog for apparently failing to spot the abuse, according to the China News Service.

The high-profile case has been trending on Chinese social media platforms for a month ever since one of the spiritual healer’s pupils, Mr Li, was found dead in his room on Sunday June 21.

Social media posts by Mr Liu’s wellness centre show the yoga teacher encouraging pupils to participate in a variety of pseudo-scientific techniques, including fasting and ‘clapping healing’, in which his followers spend time clapping their hands in a group.

Before his arrest, Mr Liu had denied advising his pupil to fast for a period of 70 days, claiming it was Mr Li’s choice to extend his usual treatment plan, which typically lasts between five and seven days.

The Tieli People’s Procuratorate announced the cult-related charges against Mr Liu and his partners, but a trial date has yet to be set, the local government statement said.

Among the 16 officials given formal warnings are staff from the city’s civil affairs, tourism, and health bureaus, which reportedly failed to supervise and oversee the privately run care home’s practices.

Tieli’s discipline and inspection committee did not punish details of each official’s offences.

The committee said further investigations were still ongoing.

Members of the public commenting on the case online have called for stricter regulations governing cults and so-called pseudo-religious organisations.

Public records show Mr Liu to be a self-proclaimed master of ‘qigong’, which is a practice involving meditation and energy healing.

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