Cult members sentenced to death in E. China


Zhang Fan (C), a cult member committing intentional murder, stands trial at the Yantai Intermediate People’s Court in Yantai, east China’s Shandong Province, Oct. 11, 2014. Zhang Fan and Zhang Lidong, cult members who committed the crime of intentional homicide in May in Zhaoyuan City of Shandong Province, were sentenced to death Saturday by the court, with another accomplice, Lyu Yingchun, given a life sentence. (Xinhua/Fan Changguo)

YANTAI, Shandong Province, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) — Two cult members accused of committing homicide in Zhaoyuan City in east China’s Shandong Province last May were sentenced to death by a local court on Saturday.

Zhang Fan and Zhang Lidong were among five cult members tried on murder charges in August.

Their accomplice, Lyu Yingchun, was given a life sentence by Shandong’s Yantai Intermediate People’s Court. Zhang Hang and Zhang Qiaolian, two other cult members, were sentenced to ten and seven years in prison, respectively. The four Zhangs are relatives.

In addition to the murder charges, Zhang Fan, Zhang Lidong and Lyu Yingchun were also charged with breaching the law through cult activities. The three were deprived of political rights for life by the court.

A woman surnamed Wu was beaten to death on May 28 at a McDonald’s outlet in Zhaoyuan after she refused to give her cell phone number to the defendants, who were allegedly trying to recruit new members for the quannengshen (almighty god) cult.

Zhang Fan and Lyu then “identified” Wu as an “evil spirit,” and Zhang used a chair to bludgeon Wu’s head. After Wu fell to the ground, Zhang trampled her face and head, repeatedly jumping up and down on her while asking other cult members present to partake. The assault ended in Wu’s death, said a court statement.

Zhang Lidong used a mop to bash Wu’s head hard enough that the mop broke. He also kicked and stomped Wu’s face and head, and Lyu repeatedly kicked her waist and hips. Lyu also prevented McDonald’s staff from rescuing her and alerting the police, it said.

According to the court, Lyu was introduced to and joined the quannengshen cult in 1998, and in 2008 he started to gather members in Zhaoyuan and publicized cult teachings. Zhang Fan was converted to the cult in 2007 and met Lyu through the Internet in 2008, attending member gatherings in Zhaoyuan several times.

At the end of 2008, Zhang Fan converted his family members in Wuji County, northern Hebei Province, including Zhang Lidong, Chen Xiujuan (Zhang Fan’s mother), Zhang Hang and Zhang Fan’s 12-year-old brother, whose name was not mentioned at court hearings.

After Zhang and his family moved to Zhaoyuan in 2009, they held hundreds of rallies involving 40 local members. They printed and distributed propaganda materials, compiling and spreading 97 quannengshen articles on domestic and overseas websites. The articles received more than 170,000 web hits, the statement said.

Zhang Lidong rented and purchased several apartments and storefronts in Zhaoyuan to serve as lodging and gathering places for cult members. He also bought vehicles, computers and cell phones and paid for broadband Internet services to spread cult information, it said.

Further, Lyu and Zhang Fan incited Zhang Lidong to deposit more than 10 million yuan (1.64 million U.S. dollars) of his own money in the bank account of Lyu and Zhang Fan under the guise of “donation to the church.”

According to the court, the five “brutally murdered” Wu, and three of them were fully aware of the nature of quannengshen. The cult has been banned in China, but still held secret rallies, created and spread cult information and enlisted new members, or helped carry out the aforementioned acts, which breached the law, the court said.

Only Lyu said he would not appeal in court. Other defendants did not say whether they will appeal.

First coming to light in the 1990s in central Henan Province, quannengshen claims that Jesus has been resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect’s founder Zhao Weishan, also known as Xu Wenshan. The couple fled to the United States in September 2000.

The sect has been widely criticized for using rumors to confuse people and coercing others to join the cult. In late October and early November 1998, numerous robberies and assaults connected with the cult were reported over 12 days in Henan’s Tanghe County, with victims’ limbs broken and ears cut off.

According to Chinese law, a cult is an illegal organization that tries to control people by deifying the sect leader, deludes members under the guise of religion, and engages in activities that harm society.

More than 90 people, including Wu’s relatives, the defendants’ relatives, members of the public, lawmakers, political advisors and journalists, were present at the court.

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