A Chinese court has sentenced 25 members of a banned religious group to prison terms of up to eight years, state media said on Friday, the largest in a series of prosecutions against a group that China calls an illegal cult.
China has sentenced dozens of followers of Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God religious movement, since the murder of a woman at a fastfood restaurant by alleged members of the group earlier this month sparked a national outcry.
The Quannengshen members were charged with spreading cult materials in public places, disturbing social order and undermining national laws and regulations, state news agency Xinhua said, citing a ruling from the Xiji County People's Court in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on Thursday.
The Quannengshen group, which originated in central Henan province, believes that Jesus has been resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder Zhao Weishan, Xinhua said. Zhao is also known as Xu Wenshan, Xinhua said, adding that the couple fled to the United States in September 2000.
In 2012, China launched a crackdown on the group after it called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "Red Dragon" Communist Party, and preached that the world would end that year.
The party brooks no challenge to its rule and is obsessed with social stability. It has cracked down on cults, which have multiplied across the country in recent years. Demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.
Former President Jiang Zemin launched a campaign in 1999 to crush the Falun Gong religious group, banning it 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.