BEIJING – Six members of a religious cult have been arrested over the beating death of a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in eastern China, police said Saturday.
The accused, including four members of the same family, allegedly attacked the woman in the city of Zhaoyuan after she refused to tell them her phone number. Zhaoyuan police said on their microblog that the six belonged to a group calling itself the "All-powerful spirit" and had been collecting numbers in an effort to recruit new members.
Zhaoyuan is in Shandong province, a traditional hotbed for religious cults. The region gave birth to the violent anti-Christian Boxer movement that laid siege to Western interests in Beijing and elsewhere during the waning years of the Qing dynasty in 1900.
State broadcaster CCTV said religious material had been found at a location linked to the sect but gave no further details. A clerk who answered the phone at Zhaoyuan police headquarters said no one was available to comment on the case.
All-powerful spirit, or "Quannengshen" in Chinese, was founded in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in the early 1990s and later spread to the country's eastern provinces, the newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily reported. It said the group promoted a philosophy based on a distorted reading of the Christian Bible and had been banned as an "evil cult" by the government in 1995, although that could not be immediately confirmed.
Another paper, the Beijing Morning News, said 17 members of the group had been arrested in Beijing in December 2012 for harassing people in a public park with claims that the world was coming to an end.
China has struggled at times to control grassroots religious movements based on Christian or Buddhist ideology, most notably the Falungong meditation movement that attracted millions of adherents before being brutally repressed in 1999.