China has strengthened its efforts to crack down on cults by arresting more than 1,500 cult members and handing out at least 86 prison terms nationwide in the past two years. The aim is to undermine cult organizations and prevent more violence in various regions.
The public security bureau in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region said it had detained more than 800 members of the Quannengshen ("Almighty God") cult and 580 members of the Mentuhui ("Disciples Sect") cult since 2012, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Police in Liaoning province have arrested 113 key members of Quannengshen since last year.
The crackdown continues in the provinces of Anhui, Hunan, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Henan and Shaanxi, as well as in the Xinjiang Uygur and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, its central level is still collecting clues about cults from public reports and its own intelligence.
The public began to put attention on cults' damage after a woman was beaten to death on May 28, allegedly by six members of Quannengshen, at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong province.
"Cults are often related to crimes of violence, money fraud and sex abuse," said Dai Peng, director of the criminal investigation department at People's Public Security University of China in Beijing. "The crackdown in different regions is an active response to public concern about their security and doesn't reflect the increase of cult activities."
China has about 20 active cult groups, including those originated on the mainland and some from overseas, according to a list of cults released by the China Anti-Cult Association, which is based in Beijing.
In 2009 and 2011, the Ministry of Public Security launched two special activities to crack the Quannengshen cult. However, it survived and quickly expanded its membership. According to the cult's introductory material, there are more than 10 million adherents around the world.
"Sometimes the arrest of key members cannot solve the case because the cult still has influence among their lowest level of members, who will spread the ideas to more people," said Li Anping, deputy secretary-general of the China Anti-Cult Association.
"Besides, after they know their activities are illegal, they develop their groups in a more discreet way," Li said. "Police cannot arrest a bunch of people who claimed they were reading the Bible. Their hands are tied until bad things happen."
Dai suggested that communities do more to prevent the expansion of cults among ordinary people.
"Communities need to give more guidance on the difference between normal religions and cults. This will help people stay away from cults and report to local police if there is any cult activities around them," said Dai.
Li also said the media should cover the more-vicious aspects of cult activity to let the public know how dangerous cults can be.