China to tighten laws to combat illegal cults

China will tighten the law to impose harsher punishments on people participating in illegal cults, a state-run newspaper said on Tuesday, after a brutal murder earlier in the year.

An amendment to the law will mandate prison terms of up to seven years for those who organize or make use of a religious institution or cult to spread "superstitions to undermine national laws or regulations", the official China Daily said.

The death penalty will be imposed for crimes which cause death or serious injuries, it added.

China currently has no specific laws relating to cults, the newspaper said.

"If the revised law comes into force, it will provide a formal legal basis for judicial organs to prosecute and handle cult-related crimes," it quoted legal official Li Shishi as saying.

Earlier this month a Chinese court sentenced two members of a banned religious cult to death for the murder in a McDonald's restaurant of a woman who refused an apparent attempt by the group to recruit her.

The 37-year-old woman, surnamed Wu, was attacked in May in the eastern province of Shandong by members of Quannengshen, the Church of Almighty God, which had preached that a global apocalypse would take place in 2012.

The case sparked a national outcry after it was revealed that Wu was beaten to death for refusing to give her telephone number to members of the group.

China's ruling Communist party brooks no challenge to its rule and is obsessed with social stability. It has cracked down on cults, which have multiplied in recent years. Demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.

In 1999, then-President Jiang Zemin launched a campaign to crush the Falun Gong religious group. It was banned 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.