Two cult members sentenced to death in China

Beijing: Two cult members, accused of homicide in Zhaoyuan City in east China's Shandong Province last May, were sentenced to death by a local court Saturday.

Zhang Fan and Zhang Lidong were among five cult members on trial for murder.

Their accomplice Lyu Yingchun was given a life sentence by Shandong's Yantai Intermediate People's Court. Zhang Hang and Zhang Qiaolian, the two other cult members, were sentenced to 10 and seven years in jail. The four Zhangs are related.

In addition to the murder charges, Zhang Fan, Zhang Lidong and Lyu Yingchun were also charged with breaching law enforcement by cult activities. The three were deprived of political rights for life by the court, Xinhua reported.

A woman surnamed Wu was beaten to death May 28 at a McDonald's outlet in Zhaoyuan, after she refused to give her cell phone number to the sentenced cult members, who were allegedly trying to recruit new members for the Quannengshen (almighty god) cult.

Zhang Fan and Lyu then "identified" Wu as an "evil spirit", and Zhang used a chair to bludgeon Wu's head. After Wu fell to ground, Zhang trampled on her face and head, repeatedly jumping up and down on her while asking other cult members present to partake. It ended with Wu's death, said a court statement.

Zhang Lidong used a mop to continuously smash Wu's head and the mop was broken. He also kicked and stomped Wu's face and head, accompanied by Lyu's repeated kicking on her waist and hip. Lyu also prevented McDonald's staff from rescuing and alarming the police, it said.

According to the court, Lyu was introduced and joined the Quannengshen cult in 1998 and started to gather members in Zhaoyuan and publicised cult teachings in 2008. Zhang Fan was converted to the cult in 2007, met Lyu through the internet in 2008, and attended member gatherings in Zhaoyuan several times.

At the end of 2008, Zhang Fan converted his family members in Wuji county in north China's Hebei province, who were Zhang Lidong, Chen Xiujuan (Zhang Fan's mother), Zhang Hang and Zhang Fan's younger brother whose name was not mentioned at court hearings.

After Zhang and his family moved to Zhaoyuan in 2009, they held hundreds of rallies involving 40 local members. They printed and distributed scores of propaganda material, compiling and spreading 97 Wuannengshen articles in domestic and overseas websites. The articles received more than 170,000 web hits, the statement said.

First coming to light in the 1990s in central China's Henan Province, Wuannengshen claims that Jesus has been resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder Zhao Weishan, also known as Xu Wenshan. The couple fled to the US in September 2000.

The sect has been widely criticised for using rumours to confuse people and coercing others to join the cult. In late October and early November 1998, numerous robberies and assaults connected with the cult were reported over 12 days in Henan's Tanghe county, with victims' limbs broken and ears cut off.

According to Chinese law, a cult is an illegal organisation that tries to control people by deifying the sect leader, deludes members under the guise of religion, and engages in activities that harm society.

More than 90 people, including Wu's relatives, suspects' relatives, members of the public, lawmakers, political advisors and journalists, were present at the court.

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