Chinese cult murder trial opens in Shandong

Defendants stands trial in Yantai, Shandong, 21 Aug 2014 The group entered a McDonalds restaurant hoping to recruit new cult members

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The trial of a group of cult members in China who beat a woman to death at a McDonald's restaurant has opened in the city of Yantai in Shandong province.

The woman, 37-year-old Wu Shuoyan, is alleged to have been killed last May simply for refusing to hand over her phone number to cult members.

The murder, filmed on CCTV and on mobile phones, sparked outrage.

The Church of the Almighty God cult is banned in China but claims to have millions of members.

Following the brutal killing in May, Chinese authorities said that they detained hundreds of members of the cult, reports the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.

Interviewed in prison later, one of the defendants, Zhang Lidong showed no remorse.

He said: "I beat her with all my might and stamped on her too. She was a demon. We had to destroy her."

Picture of the Zhaoyuan McDonald's outlet where the woman was murdered The murder took place at a McDonald's outlet in a town called Zhaoyuan, in Shandong province

The group had entered a small McDonalds branch in Zhaoyuan in Shandong province last May soliciting phone numbers and hoping to recruit members to their cult.

Ms Wu was waiting in the restaurant with her seven-year-old son and when she refused to give her number, an act which prompted the beating while they screamed at other diners to keep away or they would face the same fate.

The public face of the Church of the Almighty God is a website full of uplifting hymns and homilies. But its core belief is that God has returned to earth as a Chinese woman to wreak the apocalypse.

The only person who claims direct contact with this god is a former physics teacher, Zhao Weishan, who founded the cult 25 years ago and has since fled to the United States, says BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie.

No-one knows exactly where he is, but much of the website's message of outright hostility to the Chinese government is delivered in English as well as Chinese. The cult complains that religious faith has suffered from persecution by the Communist Party.

Since the McDonald's murder, public outrage has forced the authorities to increase pressure on the Church of the Almighty God with almost daily arrests and raids.

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