China tries five cult members for McDonald's murder

BEIJING Thu Aug 21, 2014 5:19am EDT

1 of 2. Police from the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team stand guard outside a court during the trial of five cult members charged with murder in Zhaoyuan, Shandong province, August 21, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China tried five members of a banned religious group on Thursday for the murder of a woman who was beaten to death at a McDonald's restaurant after she refused to give them her telephone number when they apparently tried to recruit her.

China has sentenced dozens of followers of Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God, since the murder of the woman in May in the eastern province of Shandong.

One man and four women were charged with murder and with illegal cult activities, according to the court in Shandong's Yantai city.

The court's official microblog carried pictures of the five, dressed in orange jackets identifying them as the accused, with about a dozen policemen standing behind them.

"The facts are clear and there is plenty of evidence," Gao Cheng, the lawyer for the murdered woman's family, was quoted as saying by the People's Daily on its website.

The accused had shown no sign of repentance and so should be severely punished, Gao said.

The court said the accused were allowed to defend themselves, but gave no details.

The trial, lasting just a single day as is common in China, ended by late afternoon with the court saying a verdict would be announced at a later date.

Chinese authorities have arrested nearly 1,000 members of Quannengshen, state media said this week, the latest in a series of official moves against the group.

Li Ming, online editor for the state-backed China Anti-Cult Association, told the Sina news portal that China had at least 20 such cults, who had "coerced" millions of people.

"Once you have been brain-washed it's very hard to get out. Because you have utter belief," Li said.

The Quannengshen group, which originated in central Henan province, believes that Jesus was resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder, Zhao Weishan, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Zhao is also known as Xu Wenshan, Xinhua said, adding that the couple fled to the United States in September 2000.

In 2012, China launched a crackdown on the group after it called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "Red Dragon" Communist Party, and preached that the world would end that year.

The party brooks no challenge to its rule and is obsessed with social stability. It has cracked down on cults, which have multiplied in recent years. Demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.

Former President Jiang Zemin launched a campaign in 1999 to crush the Falun Gong religious group, banning it as an "evil cult" after thousands of practitioners staged a surprise but peaceful sit-in outside the leadership compound in Beijing to demand official recognition of their movement.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)

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