More than 400 members of the so-called Almighty God cult have been arrested in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, police said Tuesday, following a nationwide campaign to root out the pseudo-religious group that authorities believe advocates doomsday theories and confrontation with the ruling party and government.
According to a press release sent to the Global Times on Tuesday, the "Almighty God" cult, which is also named "Oriental Lightning," uses the name of Christianity to recruit members, expands its influence through illicit means, and carries out illegal underground activities and crimes.
The cult members recently latched on to the Mayan doomsday scenario to predict the sun would not shine and electricity would not work for three days beginning on December 21.
The cult has stirred up panic and unrest in society, inciting its followers to confront the Party and the government, and cheat followers out of their property, police said, calling it an evil force which is against science, society, humanity and the government.
On December 5 and December 6, eight cases involving illegal propaganda and gatherings as well as riots incited by members of the cult took place in regions including Xining and Golmud, both cities in Qinghai. Following the crackdown by authorities, the cult started spreading reactionary propaganda materials, and incited 40 riots in some regions.
Thirty-four people in Jinjiang, East China's Fujian Province, four in Chongqing Municipality, two in Sichuan Province, seven in Shaanxi Province, four in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and five in Hubei Province were also recently detained for handing out leaflets about the apocalypse and spreading rumors, Xinhua reported.
The cult was founded in 1990 in Henan Province, and has expanded to a number of provinces. According to an anonymous source, it has mainly spread in rural areas, and targets farmers and religious believers as potential followers.
The cult has also secretly emerged in big cities including Beijing. Therese Zhang, a Catholic in Beijing who holds a master's degree in theology, told the Global Times that a young man attempted to talk her into joining the cult outside a downtown church on Sunday.
Wu Boxin, a professor from the Chinese People's Public Security University, told the Global Times Tuesday that the cult has developed rapidly in the past five years, after its predecessor "Oriental Lightning," a derivation of "The Shouters," was targeted by the government.
According to Wu, the head of the cult, Zhao Weishan, fled to the US as a result of the crackdown. "The cult has seen rapid developments in some provinces. It also expanded its influence with the help of the Internet," said Wu.
Wu said the cult has nine divisions in the country, with its key members numbering over 1,000. While some of its funding came from overseas, the cult demands its new members fund the group by surrendering their property.
Wu, who took part in probes of a number of criminal cases, revealed that the public security authorities have long been battling the group, though they didn't make the cases public.
"The group is cruel. If someone it wants to recruit turns it down, members of the group will kill the person or his relatives. They have also committed crimes of rape and fraud," said Wu.
Relatives of the group's followers have set up contact groups online, calling on the government to crack down on the cult and save their loved ones.
A man from Hebei Province, whose mother was a follower of the cult, told the Global Times that she recently kept sending text messages about the impending doomsday, and once took part in a gathering at a local market in May, disseminating rumors about the end of the world.
Learning about the recent crackdown on the cult, several contact groups found it encouraging news, and called on the government to root out the group.
Jose Funes, the director of the Vatican Observatory, last week debunked the idea that the world would end on December 21, AP reported.
Chang Meng contributed to this story