BEIJING – China on Wednesday announced the roundup of hundreds of alleged cult members following a deadly attack in which a group of adherents beat a woman to death in a McDonald's restaurant.
Slightly more than 1,500 cult members have been detained and prison terms handed out to at least 59, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday. It wasn't clear when the arrests took place, although the reports said some went back as far as two years.
Wednesday's reports appeared to be an effort to reassure the public following outrage over violence and other illegal activity blamed on cult adherents.
The reports said cult members were given terms of up to four years on charges of "using a cult organization to undermine enforcement of the law." Accusations against them included that they used threats, violence and other illegal measures to expand their memberships and organizations.
Those detained were allegedly members of the Church of Almighty God and the Disciples Sect, groups drawing on an unorthodox reading of Christian scripture.
Six members of the Church of Almighty God are accused of beating a woman to death at a McDonald's in the eastern city of Zhaoyuan last month after she refused to tell them her phone number as part of a recruitment drive.
The group, whose Chinese name "Quannengshen" also translates as "All-powerful spirit," was founded in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in the early 1990s and later spread to the country's eastern provinces, according to Chinese media reports.
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 repressed in 1999.