Eight leaders of a massive religious cult in Nicaragua that attracted some 650 followers from Nicaragua as well as Honduras and El Salvador to live in “subhuman” conditions in a mountainous area in the municipality of El Viejo, in Nicaragua’s Chinandega department, were sentenced to more than seven years in prison on Monday.
According to local media reports, the religious sect known as the Cuerpo Místico de Jesucristo (“Mystical Body of Christ”) convinced hundreds of people from Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador to sell all of their possessions, including their homes while handing the money over to the cult leaders and moving to squalor conditions at a large mountainous encampment in northern Nicaragua.
Amongst the some 650 followers at the encampment were more than 300 children, according to reports. None of the children attended school, and officials said that the children were sick, malnourished, and suffering from various diseases.
Followers of the cult believed that the “divine rapture” was imminent, and only those present at the encampment would receive “salvation.”
While the hundreds of cult members and their children lived in what authorities described as “subhuman” conditions in dwellings constructed of plastic and cardboard, the cult leaders, who called themselves “pastors,” lived in professionally constructed homes complete with air conditioning just adjacent to the encampment, according to local media reports.
After pleading guilty, the eight cult leaders were sentenced to five years each on charges of migrant smuggling, apparently for facilitating the illegal passage of their followers from the neighboring countries of Honduras and El Salvador, to reach the cult’s encampment in Nicaragua.
The cult leaders were sentenced to additional time for illegal construction in a protected area and child neglect, amongst other charges. In total, the cult leaders were sentenced to seven years, though prosecutors had requested that they spend 19 years behind bars.
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