China Tries Five Members of Religious Cult for McDonald’s Murder

A Chinese court is preparing to hand down a verdict in the case of five members of a religious group accused of beating to death a 35-year-old woman in a McDonald’s restaurant for not giving them her phone number.

The Yantai Intermediate People’s court in eastern China is hearing the case of Zhang Lidong, his daughters Zhang Fan and Zhang Hang, as well as the women Lu Yingchun and Zhang Qiaolian on charges of murder, it said on its official Weibo account. In addition Lu, Zhang Fan, and Zhang Lidong are charged with using a cult to break the law.

The group are members of the of the Church of the Almighty God that China accuses of being a cult, declaring it illegal, state media reported. Since June, Chinese police have arrested “nearly” 1,000 suspected members of the group, the Ministry of Public Security said this month.

The group started to beat the victim, surnamed Wu, at a McDonald’s in eastern Zhaoyuan city on May 28 after she refused to give her telephone number. She died after reaching the hospital. Zhang Lidong’s son was also involved but hasn’t reached the age of criminal responsibility.

The cult believes Jesus Christ was reincarnated as the wife of the sect’s founder, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. 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.

China lists 14 cults as illegal, including the Falun Gong spiritual movement. China carried out a nationwide crackdown on Falun Gong 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.

Zhang Lidong was originally from Shijiazhuang city in Hebei province and had been living in Zhaoyuan for seven years, China News reported today, citing police.

— With assistance by Henry Sanderson

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