By UCA News
(UCA News) — China’s communist regime has intensified its crackdown on a controversial Christian cult movement, the Church of Almighty God (CAG), with hundreds of members jailed.
Some 600 CAG members have been sentenced to between six months and seven years in prison across China, Bitter Winter reported.
The renewed persecution is part of a three-year plan by the Chinese Communist Party known as the “Final Solution” to eradicate the church, it noted.
In the latest case, the People’s Court of Zhangqiu in Jinan city of Shandong province in eastern China sentenced 48 CAG members to prison terms ranging from two to three years. They had been detained without trial for more than two years. Their relatives were denied permission to visit during their pre-trial detention.
Among the convicts are people aged below 20 and above 67. One 80-year-old woman was sentenced to two years and four months. She was later allowed to serve her sentence outside prison due to her age.
Similar crackdowns occurred in other parts of Shandong, resulting in the arrest and sentencing of 237 CAG members in the province alone.
In August, a female CAG member was sentenced to four years in Shandong. She died in prison in less than two months from an unknown cause. Police informed her family members that a heart attack caused her death and urged them to cremate the body immediately. The family were not allowed to change the clothes of the deceased, effectively stopping them from examining her body.
Earlier, on Jan. 28, a court in Tongxu county in Henan province in central China sentenced five CAG members, including two who were sentenced to seven years and seven and a half years in prison respectively and each fined 10,000 yuan (US$1,570). A couple were sentenced to four years and seven and a half years respectively and fined 15,000 yuan ($2,350) for providing meeting places for CAG members.
A family member lamented that the court didn’t bother to show mercy to an elderly CAG member.
“She is nearly 60 years old and only hosted a few people for a meeting and did nothing else. How come she has been given so hefty a sentence?” she told Bitter Winter.
Some family members and relatives attempted to get CAG believers released with bribes, but in vain as the authorities effectively consider them political prisoners.
“We can help those who committed theft, robbery, murder or arson, but we cannot help those who believe in Almighty God,” a Chinese official reportedly said.
In April, Bitter Winter reported that from January to March this year, some 750 CAG members were arrested, interrogated and tortured in various provinces including Jiangsu, Henan and Sichuan.
A 2020 CAG report claimed that 5,587 members faced various forms of persecution by Chinese authorities last year.
The church, also known as Eastern Lightning, is a controversial Christian cult movement that is believed to have 3-4 million members in China.
Mainstream Christian denominations consider the CAG as a fringe radical movement that believes Jesus has become incarnate again, this time as a Chinese woman named Yang Xiangbin.
Yang is the nominal head of Eastern Lightning, while its real leader is her lover, Zhao Weishan, who first began proclaiming the divinity of Yang.
Founded in 1991, the CAG allegedly uses illegal recruitment tactics such as kidnappings for expansion.
Media reports say Zhao and Yang moved to the US in 2000 and oversee CAG operations from New York City. The couple have declared open war against the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party by labeling it the “red dragon.”
The CAG has been banned in China for its anti-government stance. It is listed among Xie Jiao (banned religious movements) like another controversial cult group, Falun Gong.