Six members of China’s ‘Church of Almighty God’ Christian sect were sentenced to between two and four years in prison on Wednesday amid a widening crackdown against the doomsday cult. All six were found to be senior members of the sect’s local branch in central Hubei province where they held group-study sessions to “brainwash” new recruits and created promotional material, according to China’s state Xinhua News Agency. “They were convicted for breaching law enforcement by cult activities,” said the verdict, issued by Wuling District People’s Court in Hubei. More than 1,000 members of the Church of Almighty God have been detained during the past year after five family members were arrested and the father and daughter later executed for the murder of a woman in a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Shandong province. Videos taken by other diners using smart phones showed Wu Shuoyan being beaten to death in view of her seven-year-old son after refusing to give her phone number in a case that shocked many Chinese. Since then, the Church of Almighty God — also known as Eastern Lightening — has been the principle target of a ramped up anti-cult campaign that led to the arrests of an estimated 20,000 “heretics” last year, according to US-based China Aid. Most mainstream Christian dominations consider the group to be fringe radicals using illegal recruitment tactics that have reportedly included kidnappings. In 2012, the group’s members led rioting and handed out leaflets claiming new members could be saved from the impending end of the world. Authorities have posted warnings in public places across China in a bid to halt the sect’s recruitment drive, which has mainly targeted women in rural areas. The group, led by an exiled Chinese who fled to the US in 2000, has declared open war against the atheist Communist Party, which it has labeled the “Red Dragon”. The group’s slick website
— including material in Chinese, English and Korean — warns members what will happen if they are caught by China’s police. “It was God’s word that had been accompanying me and giving me strength,” says one recent video, which includes a re-enacted scene of a female member behind bars.