Five members of a fringe religious group in China went on trial Thursday for beating a woman to death at a McDonald’s restaurant, reportedly after she rebuffed their attempts to recruit her.
The five are all members of a cult called Quannengshen, the official news agency Xinhua said, adding that they attacked the woman, surnamed Wu, after she refused to give them her phone number.
The group, whose name can be translated as Church of Almighty God, believe that Jesus has been reincarnated in China and refer to the Communist Party as the “great red dragon”.
It was outlawed by the government in the mid-1990s.
Images of the five accused, dressed in bright orange clothing and surrounded by 17 police officers, were posted online by Yantai Intermediate People’s Court in Shandong, in eastern China.
“The indictment charged the defendants Zhang Fan, Zhang Lidong, Lu Yingchun, Zhang Hang, Zhang Qiao jointly with intentional homicide,” it said on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Zhang Lidong, Zhang Fan and Lu were also accused of “using an evil cult organisation to undermine the law”, the court’s Weibo page added.
Reports in May said six suspects had been detained, including a juvenile, whose case would be dealt with separately.
A online video emerged showing a man resembling Zhang striking out angrily with a pole, shouting “Damn you, devil! Go to hell!” as a woman yelled “Kill her! Beat her to death!”
The three minutes of footage, apparently shot on a mobile phone, only included a fraction of a second of what could be the victim.
But others at the restaurant could be heard screaming as they fled outside, while one diner shouted repeatedly: “Don’t look. Go!”
Zhang was also paraded on state television “admitting” the crime.
“She was a demon,” he said in an interview with China Central Television, which has screened a string of “confessions” in recent months, mainly from those who have riled authorities.
“We are not afraid of the law, we trust in God,” he added.
Earlier this month state media said 1,000 Quannengshen members had been arrested including “high-level organisers and backbone members”.
Similar numbers were held at the end of 2012, when the organisation was under the spotlight for predicting an apocalypse and the state-run Global Times said it had called on members to overthrow the Communist Party.
A number of blogs on the murder have been posted on the group’s website distancing it from “these several ruffians”.
The blogs claim that the murder was a pretext for the ruling Communist Party to crack down on the group.
“It’s not difficult to see that the ‘May 28 incident’ is completely a false case created by the (Party) to frame and condemn the Church of Almighty God,” one of the postings said.
“Prisoners admit a confession by torture,” another said. “Whatever the (Party) asks them to say, they have to say it.”
China has previously cracked down harshly on groups it labels “cults”, most notably the Falungong spiritual movement which was banned in the late 1990s.
It has since detained tens of thousands of its members, according to rights groups, with some saying they have been tortured for refusing to give up their beliefs.
Falungong insists it is targeted because the ruling Communist Party views it as a threat.