Church denies ties to accused cult leader

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church Foundation of Thailand has denied any involvement with Lao Yang, the Hmong cult leader who is facing charges of sexually abusing minors, saying the church has disowned the self-proclaimed cult leader since 2009.

Niratsai Aay-Pan, a director of the church's foundation, said: "We told Lao Yang and his people to stop referring to the church in their activities many years ago. But they refused to do so. They continued using the names of our church in several provinces," he said.

Appearing at a press conference with the church foundation's directors, Mr Niratsai said the 56-year-old Hmong was a member of the church in 2004. However, the foundation disowned him in 2009 after they began to find Mr Yang's behaviour strange. Mr Yang was not available for comment.

Mr Yang is facing charges on six counts of sexual abuse, including against two minors who filed fresh charges against him earlier this month. The victims accused him of abusing them when they attended a ritual organised by Mr Yang's cult in a jungle in Khao Kho district of Phetchabun, according to a police source.

According to the victims' parents, Mr Yang claimed he was a preacher at a Seventh-Day Adventist Protestant church.

Mr Niratsai, a senior member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said the church disowned Mr Yang after noticing his unusual behaviour. Mr Yang once fell ill and claimed he was possessed by a bad spirit. Afterwards, he claimed that he could communicate with God.

"However, the preaching message that he claimed to receive from heaven was different from the Bible," said Mr Niratsai.

For instance, he preached that people should not hold an ID card, saying the ID card is a symbol of a monster. Moreover, he discouraged students from going to school, saying they should focus only on his preaching.

"The church foundation warned him many times. But Mr Yang and his associates did not stop disseminating such messages. Therefore, the church disowned him and his three other associates.

The church foundation, however, has not pursued any legal action against him. "We decided to call the press conference today because his claims have defamed the foundation," said Mr Niratsai.

According to the parents of the two victims who filed the latest allegations against Mr Yang, the victims were among 10 young women who were participating in a camping-style ritual in the jungle.

Mr Yang was accused of sexually abusing the minors and told the victims it was part of a ritual for redemption.

In addition to the minors, there are four other counts of sexual abuse against Mr Yang, including a 22-year-old woman who told other cult members that she was sexually abused by Mr Yang in April this year.

On Monday, around 20 supporters went to the court to hear its decision to grant bail after he was charged in the two minors' cases. He was bailed twice before on similar charges against different victims.

Mr Yang was bailed on Monday on 300,000-baht surety for the third time on charges of sexually abusing the two minors. He denied the allegations of sexual abuse.