Father and daughter cult members executed for murdering woman in McDonald's
China has executed two members of what authorities called an “evil cult” for beating a woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant.
The deaths of Zhang Lidong and his daughter, Zhang Fan, were announced on Monday by the Yantai Intermediate People's Court in the eastern province of Shandong.
A spokesperson said the Supreme People's Court approved the death penalty after a case review because the crimes were “extremely serious, their means brutal and the incident brought an extremely bad social effect”.
The pair were reportedly trying to recruit their victim for the “Church of the Almighty God” group, known in Chinese as Quannengshen, in May last year when the attack started.
The 35-year-old woman, Wu Shuoyan, had refused to give her phone number to the group in the town of Zhaoyuan.
Zhang Fan and her accomplice, Lyu Yingchun, then claimed Wu was possessed by an “evil spirit,” and Zhang used a chair to bludgeon her head before stamping on her face, while inciting other cult members to join the attack, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.'
Her father allegedly beat the victim so hard with a restaurant mop that the handle snapped, while group members stopped McDonald’s staff intervening or calling the police. Wu died at the scene.
An online video emerged shortly afterwards showing a man resembling Zhang Lidong hitting an unseen person with a mop, shouting “Damn you, devil! Go to hell!” as a woman yelled “Kill her! Beat her to death!”
The cult members on trial last year Zhang Lidong reportedly said in a subsequent interview that he believed Wu was a demon and that “we had to destroy her”.
Church of the Almighty God followers believe that Jesus was resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, the wife of the sect's founder, Zhao Weishan, also known as Xu Wenshan. The couple fled to the United States in 2000.
The anti-Communist sect, established in the 1990s in central Henan Province, claims to have millions of followers. Since the murder, which sparked public outrage, Chinese authorities have reportedly detained more than a thousand Church of the Almighty God members.
In 2012, China launched a crackdown on the group, which called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "Red Dragon" Communist Party, and preached that the world would end that year.
A branch of McDonald's in Hong Kong Zhang Lidong and Zhang Fan were known as particularly avid followers, authorities claimed, holding hundreds of rallies in Zhaoyuan, printing leaflets and spreading articles online over five years.
They were among five cult members tried on murder charges in August.
Lyu was given a life sentence by Shandong's Yantai Intermediate People's Court for “intentional homicide and undermining law enforcement using heresy” as well as being “deprived of political rights for life” for illegal “cult activities”.
Zhang Hang and Zhang Qiaolian, two other cult members who were relatives of the executed pair, were sentenced to ten and seven years in prison respectively.
The Church of the Almighty God is banned in China, along with other spiritual groups labelled “cults” by authorities.
Chinese law defines a cult is “an illegal organisation that tries to control people by deifying the sect leader, deludes members under the guise of religion, and engages in activities that harm society”, according to state media.
China is thought to carry out the most executions of any country in the world annually. Although the actual number of deaths is a state secret, estimates range between 2,000 and 4,000 a year.
In its 2015 report, Human Rights Watch said that although the national constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the government restricts religious practices to officially approved mosques, churches, temples, and monasteries organised by five officially recognised religious groups.
Independent News Service