China has detained dozens of people, some of whom it terms 'doomsday cult members,' as part of a nationwide crackdown on rumors about a supposed forthcoming apocalypse, state news agency Xinhua said today.
Authorities in five different areas have detained 52 people for spreading predictions of a December 21 "doomsday" linked to the ancient Mayan calendar, the agency reported.
The apocalypse predictions have received widespread coverage in China, thanks in part to the success of the Hollywood disaster film 2012, which was partly inspired by the supposed Mayan prophecy.
Those detained include 34 people in the eastern province of Fujian, and two in the central city of Wuhan who handed out leaflets about the apocalypse at transport facilities, the report said.
"People have fabricated and spread rumors about the 'end of the world,' caused trouble by tricking people out of money and disturbed social order," the report cited police in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing as saying.
A Christian group known as Almighty God, which state-run media has labeled an "evil cult" – the same description it applies to the banned Falun Gong sect – has also been targeted in the pre-doomsday crackdown, with reports of dozens of arrests last week.
A number of Almighty God members were detained in the northwestern province of Qinghai, the state-run Global Times daily said, adding that the group predicts three days of darkness will begin on December 21.
The group has called on its members to overthrow China's ruling Communist Party, which it refers to as "the big red dragon," and tells believers that a new era, presided over by a "female Jesus," has arrived.
"A big eye was found in the sun on December 9 in Beijing, and female Jesus manifested herself with her name. Great tsunamis and earthquakes are about to happen around the world," the Global Times reported a text message sent by Almighty God members as saying.
The ruling Communist Party does not tolerate challenges to its authority and has brutally cracked down on religious groups including the Buddhist-inspired Falun Gong, which was banned in the late 1990s.
China has a long history of religiously inspired anti-government movements, most notably the nineteenth century Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, led by a Christian convert who gathered hundreds of thousands of followers in an attempt to overthrow the emperor. AFP