1,500 cult members arrested in past two years, China says after McDonald's killing
Revealing the detentions and prison terms meant to reassure public that things are being done to stop the religious sects
China today announced the round-up of hundreds of alleged cult members following a deadly attack in which a group of adherents beat a woman to death in a McDonald's restaurant.
Slightly more than 1,500 cult members have been detained and prison terms were handed out to at least 59, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It was not clear when the arrests took place, although the reports said some went back as far as two years.
Reports of the detentions appeared to be an effort to reassure the public following outrage over violence and other illegal activity blamed on cult adherents.
The reports said cult members were given terms of up to four years on charges of "using a cult organisation to undermine enforcement of the law".
Those detained were allegedly members of the Church of Almighty God and the Disciples Sect, groups drawing on an unorthodox reading of Christian scripture.
Accusations against them included using threats, violence and other illegal measures to expand their memberships and organisations.
Six members of the Church of Almighty God are accused of beating a woman to death at a McDonald's in the eastern city of Zhaoyuan last month after she refused to tell them her phone number as part of a recruitment drive.
Watch: A witness video of the attack at McDonald's (WARNING: Graphic content)
The victim, a mother surnamed Wu, was waiting in the restaurant in Zhaoyuan for her husband after work when she was confronted by the six suspects, believed to be a family that were members of the Almight God sect.
Surveillance footage showed the alleged cult members beating her with their fists, chairs and a metal mop. They continued to kick Wu as she lay bloodied on the ground.
Wu's husband has said in previous interviews that he could not bring to tell their only child, a five-year-old boy, what happened to the mother.
Almighty God, whose Chinese name "Quannengshen" also translates as "All-powerful Spirit", was founded in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in the early 1990s and later spread to the country's eastern provinces, according to Chinese media reports.
China has struggled at times to control grass-roots religious movements based on Christian or Buddhist ideology, most notably the Falun Gong meditation movement that attracted millions of adherents before being repressed in 1999.