China detains 500-plus people for doomsday rumors

December 18, 2012 - 7:33 AM

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese police have detained more than 500 people from a fringe Christian group for spreading rumors about the world's impending end, state media reported Tuesday.

In western China's Qinghai province alone, police arrested more than 400 members from the religious cult group, state-run China Central Television said Tuesday.

Police seized leaflets, video discs, books and other apocalyptic materials in the recent arrests of more than 500 people across eight provinces and regions, from the prosperous east coast to less developed western China, state media reports said.

The detentions come ahead of Friday, Dec. 21 — a date some say the Mayans prophesized would be the end of the world and which was the subject of the apocalyptic movie "2012."

Those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, which is also called Eastern Lightning, after a phrase from the Bible's Book of Matthew. Widely regarded as a heretical Christian sect, the group preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. It has been accused of targeting Christians, kidnapping and beating them to force conversions.

Chinese society has been in tumult as decades of rapid free-market economic growth discredit communist ideology, loosen social controls and pull hundreds of millions from the countryside to the cities. Into the spiritual void have rushed traditional Buddhist groups and Daoist practices, as well as evangelical Christian churches and other spiritual groups, some with unorthodox and apocalyptic visions.

Eastern Lightning first appeared around 20 years ago, and the official Xinhua News Agency said that its members had "recently latched on to the Mayan doomsday prophesy to predict that the sun will not shine and electricity will not work for three days beginning on Dec. 21."

A public notice on the web site of Qinghai provincial government said local police are waging a "severe crackdown" on the group described as a cult with "strong political penchants." The government urged the public to inform the police of any illegal propaganda, gathering and preaching by the group.

The CCTV report called the group a cult and accused it of attacking the party and the government, though it did not give any specifics.

The state-run Huashang website last week, citing local authorities, reported that the group is urging followers to "exterminate the great red dragon" — a reference to the Communist Party — "and found a country under the rule of Almighty God."