Police in eastern China arrested five alleged members of a religious cult on murder charges after a 35-year-old woman was beaten to death in a McDonald’s restaurant for refusing to give out her phone number.
The victim, surnamed Wu, was attacked May 28 by members of a sect known as the Church of Almighty God who were trying to recruit followers, Zhaoyuan city police in eastern Shandong province said on its official Weibo account late yesterday. After she refused to give them her number, the assailants beat her, believing she was a demon and evil spirit, it said.
The five suspects are also charged with organizing and using a cult to undermine law enforcement, after police seized books and other material from the suspects’ homes, the Zhaoyuan police said. The provincial and city police will increase scrutiny of such cases and crack down on illegal and criminal activities of cults, it said.
The attack has led to widespread condemnation of religious sects on China’s strictly controlled Internet, as well as in state media. Lu Dewen, a deputy professor at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, called for an immediate crackdown on cults in an article in the Chinese-language Global Times newspaper today.
The persistent existence of cult activities reveals “worrying failures in both education and administration,” the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial today. “There will undoubtedly be a harsh crackdown on the illicit cult,” it said.
China carried out a nationwide crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement in 1999, putting thousands of members behind bars. In late 2012, authorities arrested more than 450 people accused of belonging to the Church of Almighty God after they held secret gatherings and spread leaflets in the belief the world was going to end on Dec. 21 that year.
The Church of Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning, was set up in the early 1990s by Zhao Weishan, a physics teacher from Heilongjiang province, according to Chinese state media. It was banned by Chinese authorities in 1995, after which Zhao fled to the U.S., according to the Global Times newspaper.
The cult believes Jesus Christ was reincarnated as a woman surnamed Deng from central Henan province. Adherents also believe they are on a mission to fight and slay the “big red dragon,” as it refers to China’s ruling Communist Party, the Beijing News reported in December 2012.
Zhang Lidong, 54, and two of his daughters are among the six suspects who took part in the McDonald’s attack, the Beijing News said today, citing unnamed sources. A son of one of the suspects who was also involved in the attack hasn’t reached the age of criminal responsibility, according to Zhaoyuan police.
— With assistance by Henry Sanderson