BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese court has begun proceedings against leading members of the banned religious group “Almighty God”, state media reported, the latest crackdown on what the government has labelled a dangerous cult.
China has already sentenced dozens of followers of Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God, since the murder of a woman at a fastfood restaurant by suspected members of the group in 2014 sparked a national outcry.
In the latest case, an unspecified number of members of the group have been on trial in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang since July 31, state news agency Xinhua said late on Sunday.
“Heilongjiang police arrested the leader and some key members of the cult branch in northeast China in June 2017,” the report said, citing local police.
It provided no other details of the case and it was not possible to reach a representative of the group in China for comment.
The group, which originated in central Henan province, believes that Jesus was resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect’s founder, Zhao Weishan, Xinhua said. Zhao is also known as Xu Wenshan, Xinhua said, adding that the couple fled to the United States in 2000.
The group mainly recruits less-educated women who have family problems, and “lures” them in with normal Christian teachings, the report said.
“In the beginning new recruits were not forced to donate or attend the gatherings but after becoming a convert they were manipulated to leave their family and devote everything to the cult,” it quoted an anonymous Heilongjiang police officer as saying.
Members are banned from using mobile phones, watching television or reading non-religious books and are made to “watch videos made for brainwashing”, Xinhua added.
In 2012, China launched a crackdown on “Almighty God” after it called for a “decisive battle” to slay the “Red Dragon” Communist Party, and preached that the world would end that year.
China’s constitution proclaims freedom of belief, but in reality the officially atheist ruling Communist Party keeps a tight rein over all religious activities and has cracked down on sects it says threaten social stability and promote violence.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)