Chinese court sentences cult members to death over McDonald's killing

Yang Xiangbin, left, and the group's founder, Zhao Weishan. Group members believe Yang is the reincarnation of Jesus.

Story highlights

  • Five members of a Chinese cult have been sentenced for a murder in a McDonald's
  • Two were sentenced to death for the killing of a woman who refused to give them her number
  • The group, Church of Almighty God, has been banned in China since 1995
  • Its members believe Jesus has been reincarnated as a Chinese woman

(CNN)Two members of a banned Chinese doomsday cult were sentenced to death Saturday for the brutal murder of a woman in a McDonald's restaurant in May, Chinese state media reported.

Zhang Fan and Zhang Lidong were among five members of the Church of Almighty God, or "Quannengshen," tried on murder charges in August over the killing in Zhaoyuan, Shandong Province, the state-run Xinhua agency reported.
Three fellow cult members, Lyu Yingchun, Zhang Hang and Zhang Qiaolian, were sentenced to life, 10 and seven years in prison respectively for their roles in the attack. The four Zhangs were related, according to the report.
    A court statement said the victim, a 37-year-old woman named Wu Shuoyan, was attacked after refusing to give her phone number to the group, who were allegedly attempting to recruit new members.
    Zhang Fan and Lyu called her an "evil spirit," before Zhang bludgeoned her head with a chair, then jumped on her and trampled her head, the statement said.
    Zhang Lidong bashed the victim's head with a mop hard enough to break it, and stomped on her face and head, while Lyu kicked her waist and prevented McDonald's staff from intervening, the court statement said.
    Linked to kidnappings, violence and extortion, the Church of Almighty God has been on a list of 14 banned religious groups issued by China's Ministry of Public Security since 1995.
    Founded in the 1990s in Henan Province, the group believes that Jesus has been reincarnated as Yang Xiangbin, the wife of the group's founder, Zhao Weishan. The couple fled to the United States in 2000, Xinhua reported.
    The group, also known as Eastern Lightning ("Dongfang Shandian"), preaches that the righteous are engaged in an apocalyptic struggle against China's Communist Party -- which it refers to as the "great red dragon."
    Belonging to a tradition of heterodox, quasi-Christian Chinese religious movements, the cult was estimated as having between several hundred thousand and one million members, according to Emily Dunn, an Asian studies academic at the University of Melbourne who wrote her doctoral thesis on the group.
    In August, Chinese state media reported that police had arrested nearly 1,000 suspected members of the group, including nearly 100 "backbone members."
    The report said those arrested were responsible for "numerous" suicides and murders, including those of their own family.
    In 2012, hundreds of members were rounded up after the group publicly proclaimed the end of the world was imminent.
    In a statement provided to CNN in June, Hong Kong-based members of the group responsible for its English-language website said it was "very natural" for the Chinese Communist Party to blame the group for the McDonald's death because the party slandered and then suppressed those that disagreed with it.
    "They always find some excuse in advance and fabricate things and slander them," said the statement.