China sentences 14 'Almighty God' members to jail: Xinhua

BEIJING (AFP) - A total of 14 members of a Chinese religious cult have been jailed for up to three years, state media said Sunday, the latest sentences after two members were executed this year for killing a woman.

Nine members of the banned Quannengshen group were convicted of "undermining the implementation of laws by making use of cult organisations", the official Xinhua news agency said, citing prosecutors in the central province of Hubei.

The sentences ranged from 18 months to three years, the agency quoted local authorities as saying on Sunday.

It added that on Saturday a court in the northeastern province of Liaoning sentenced five cult members to prison terms of two or three years.

The agency said the punishments were for "spreading cult propaganda".

Followers of Quannengshen, whose name can be translated as Church of Almighty God, believe that Jesus has been reincarnated as a Chinese woman - the wife of the cult's founder.

The organisation appeared in the 1990s and the founder and his wife fled to the United States in 2000, Xinhua said.

A father and daughter who belonged to Quannengshen were executed in February after being convicted of beating a woman to death at a McDonald's restaurant, reportedly after she rebuffed their attempts to recruit her.

Three others convicted over the attack - including another of the executed man's daughters - were given prison terms ranging from seven years to life.

Earlier this month Xinhua reported that the spiritual leader of a Chinese Buddhist sect would be prosecuted for financial and sexual offences.

China has cracked down harshly on religious groups, mostly notably on the Falungong movement which was banned in the late 1990s.

It has submitted to its rubber-stamp parliament a new law which includes harsher punishments for those involved in "cults or superstitious activities".