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China gives rare clemency to banned Christian cult member

Almighty God member's seven-year term is reduced by six months
China gives rare clemency to banned Christian cult member

A man looks at a poster for the Hollywood movie "2012" at a subway station in Beijing on Dec. 20, 2012. China reportedly arrested more than 1,000 members of the Church of Almighty God in a crackdown on the group. (Photo by Wang Zhao/AFP)

Published: November 11, 2015 09:19 AM GMT
Updated: November 10, 2015 11:17 PM GMT

China has reduced the prison term of a member of Church of Almighty God, a rare act of clemency amid a fierce government crackdown against the Christian doomsday cult.

Lai Yiwa, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2013 for being a cult member, had his sentence reduced by six months, said the Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S.-based rights advocacy group.

"His sentence reduction is the first known act of clemency received by an Almighty God member in Guangdong province since the nationwide clampdown on the outlawed group began in December 2012," said Dui Hua, which regularly meets with Chinese authorities to seek clemency for religious and political prisoners.

The reduction of Lai's sentence happened in August but was only confirmed Nov. 10 by Dui Hua.

Of the thousands of members of the cult behind bars in China, none had received any form of clemency as recently as July, Dui Hua said previously — a sign of how seriously Beijing has clamped down on their activities.

Authorities have reportedly arrested more than 1,000 members of the sect since five members were found guilty of killing a woman in a McDonald's restaurant in Shandong province in May 2014. The case shocked ordinary Chinese after footage of the killing was shown on state broadcaster CCTV.

The government ordered its first major clampdown earlier when Church of Almighty God began predicting the end of the world would come on Dec. 21, 2012.

Lai was accused of printing 1,600 doomsday leaflets. Lai was one of 1,300 members of the group arrested in 16 provinces across China in just a few weeks at the end of 2012.

Since then, China has listed Almighty God as one of about a dozen banned "cults."

However, there is little consensus, even among government departments in China, on what actually constitutes an illegal cult. Groups such as China Aid have argued that the government deliberately conflates cults with legitimate Christian organizations not registered with the state.

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