China cult members on trial for McDonald's killing: court

China cult members on trial for McDonald's killing: court
Police from the SWAT team stand guard outside a court during the trial of five cult members charged with murder in Zhaoyuan

BEIJING - Five people accused by Chinese authorities of being members of a religious cult went on trial Thursday for beating a woman to death at a McDonald's restaurant, the court said.

The woman, surnamed Wu, was attacked in May at the restaurant in Zhaoyuan, in Shandong province, after refusing to give the suspects her telephone number, the official news agency Xinhua said.

They were seeking to recruit her into a cult called Quannengshen, it said.

The group, which can be translated as Church of Almighty God, was outlawed by the government in the mid-1990s, according to media reports.

Images of the five accused, dressed in bright orange clothing and surrounded by 17 police officers, were posted online by Yantai Intermediate People's Court in Shandong, in eastern China.

"The indictment charged the defendants Zhang Fan, Zhang Lidong, Lu Yingchun, Zhang Hang, Zhang Qiao jointly with intentional homicide," it said on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

Reports in May said six suspects were detained, including a juvenile, whose case would be dealt with separately.

China has previously cracked down harshly on groups it labels "cults", most notably the Falungong spiritual movement which was banned in the late 1990s.

It has since detained tens of thousands of its members, according to rights groups, with some saying they have been tortured for refusing to give up their beliefs.

The organisation insists it is targeted because the ruling Communist Party views it as a threat.

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