ucanews.com reporter, BeijingUpdated: July 26, 2015 08:25 PM GMT
Chinese courts have sentenced 14 members of the Church of Almighty God sect to between 18 months and three years in prison, in the latest sign Beijing is escalating a crackdown against the banned Christian group.
Five members were found guilty of “spreading the cult” at a court in the northeastern city of Panjin on July 25.
In a separate trial, nine more members were convicted of “undermining the implementation of laws by making use of cult organizations”, a court in central Hubei province’s Zigui County announced on July 26.
In both trials, members of the group were found with videos, books and other material promoting the Church of Almighty God.
“They also recruited and brainwashed believers,” said the Zigui County court, after convicting the nine members in Hubei Province.
The two trials bring the total number of Church of Almighty God followers imprisoned this month to at least 19 people in China, according to state media.
China has cracked down on the group after five members from the same family were found guilty of beating a woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in Shandong province in May last year because they believed she was “possessed by an evil spirit”.
Zhang Lidong and daughter Zheng Fen were executed in February in a case that shocked many Chinese after CCTV footage of the attack circulated online.
Authorities have reportedly arrested 1,000 Church of Almighty God members since the McDonald’s attack, resulting in a string of court cases more readily publicized by Chinese media in recent months.
Led by a Chinese living in exile in the US, the Church of Almighty God — an unorthodox Protestant group also known as Eastern Lightning — has declared open war against the Chinese Communist Party, which it has labeled the “Red Dragon”.
The Church of Almighty God’s Hong Kong office was not available today after repeated phone calls rang through to voicemail.
The group has not made any public statements about the crackdown in China on its website, which features videos re-enacting arrests of its members and scenes in which detainees resist informing on other followers despite police torture.
The Chinese prisoner advocacy group Dui Hua said in its monthly report for July that Church of Almighty God detainees are not benefiting from parole and sentence reductions given to members of other banned religious groups, including Falun Gong.
“Since the Chinese government instituted a nationwide clampdown on Church of Almighty God in December 2012, Dui Hua has yet to learn of a single instance of clemency given to a member of the sect,” it said.