A court in the city of Wuhan has sentenced five Church of Almighty God members to between three and four years in prison as China continues a crackdown against the Christian cult.
The group was found guilty of recording “cult training materials” using mobile phones, laptops and voice recorders in September, the Wuhan Evening News reported Wednesday.
“They spread the materials among cult members and others,” the newspaper said. “They also communicated with each other with handwritten notes taken during the training in order to ‘cultivate dissemination talents’.”
Another court in Hubei province sentenced six members of the same cult to similar prison terms for “brainwashing” and spreading information in mid-May.
Authorities have arrested more than 1,000 Church of Almighty God members over the past year after five members of the same family were arrested for the killing of a woman in a McDonald’s restaurant in Shandong province in May last year.
Zhang Lidong and his daughter Zheng Fan were executed in February after they beat the woman to death because they believed she was “possessed by an evil spirit”.
Led by a Chinese living in exile in the US, the Church of Almighty God — also known as Eastern Lightening — has declared open war against the Chinese Communist Party, which it has labeled the “Red Dragon”.
The Chinese government last week strengthened laws against dozens of banned cults in the wake of the high-profile McDonalds case.
A new amendment extended the maximum sentence for people found guilty of cult-related crimes to life imprisonment. Previously, the maximum penalty had been a 15-year sentence.
China arrested an estimated 20,000 “heretics” last year, according to China Aid, which has accused Beijing of conflating cults with religious groups including Falun Gong.