Police investigating a religious cult in Brazil have found 79 people living in slavery-like conditions on a farm.
The site is believed to be run by Igreja Adventista Remanescente de Laodiceia, a religious community of about 300 people in the capital city of Brasilia, an ongoing investigation revealed.
The labourers, found working in dangerous conditions for little to no pay, are members of the cult and have not asked for help.
Labour inspector Rodrigo Ramos told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: "We observed that there is strong psychological coercion.
"[The followers] believe they work for their own spiritual salvation.
"They think the world is nearing its end, and that they can be saved [by staying] in this community."
Last year, Brazilian officials have successfully found 565 suspected slaves labouring for a single religious organisation.
However they struggled to stop the abuse as some of the suspected slaves refused to be rescue.
According to Ramos, the leaders of the Brasilia cult were enriching themselves off the work done by their followers.
People sold bread, crops, books and sheets that were all made within the community, but they received less than the minimum wage for their labour.
It’s reported they had to pay for food, clothing and their lodgings.
Officials said some of the machinery employed have put workers’ lives at risk.
The Federal Public Prosecutor wrote in a statement that workers slept in makeshift tents or in other degrading conditions.
A room housing dangerous pesticides was separated from an area where workers slept by a improvised wall made of cardboard.
"We could smell the products [from where workers slept]," said Ramos.
State officials seized ledgers and documents containing payments and expenditures for each person who was in the cult.
Leaders of the church will face charges for keeping workers in slavery-like conditions and will have to pay compensation to those harmed by their practices if found guilty, said Ramos.
According to local police, two women were rescued from Igreja Adventista Remanescente de Laodiceia after being kept imprisoned as domestic labourer last December.
Police then received new reports of abuses that triggered the current operation.
"It bears emphasizing that the operation does not mean to interfere in the religious beliefs of any citizen. But it is a duty of the state to act positively so that workers have their fundamental rights secured," the prosecutor’s office said.
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