China jails 21 members of banned religious cult

China jails 21 members of banned religious cult
Defendant Zhang Hang cries during her trial for the murder of a woman at a McDonald's restaurant, in Yantai City, Shandong province October 11, 2014 in this still image taken from video.

BEIJING - Courts in two Chinese cities handed jail terms to 21 members of a banned religious cult, state media said on Wednesday, in the latest action against a group that saw two of its members condemned to death in October.

China's Communist Party, obsessed with social stability, brooks no challenge to its rule. It has cracked down on cults, which have multiplied in recent years. Demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.

China has vowed to levy harsher punishments on anyone spreading superstitions or undermining the law through the use of a religious institution.

Members of the group, Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God, which had preached predictions of a global apocalypse in 2012, killed a 37-year-old woman in the eastern province of Shandong in May.

Two people were handed death sentences for the killing, which sparked a national outcry after it emerged that the woman was beaten to death for refusing to give her telephone number to group members.

Two members, Zhang Shuzhi, 44, and Geng Yuqin, 63, received seven- and four-year prison terms on Wednesday in northeastern Liaoning province, the official Xinhua news agency said, describing the duo as "core" members of the group. "The court upheld evidence that Zhang and Geng actively recruited new members for the Church of the Almighty God cult, claiming that only the cult could save them," Xinhua said.

Nineteen members of the group received prison terms ranging between 2-1/2 years and six years in neighbouring Jilin province, where authorities in the city of Yanji had cracked down on the cult, Xinhua said in a separate report.

In 1999, then-President Jiang Zemin launched a campaign to crush the Falun Gong religious group.

It was banned as an "evil cult" after thousands of practitioners staged a surprise but peaceful sit-in outside the leadership compound in Beijing to demand official recognition of their movement.

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