China arrests 500 followers of religious cult over Mayan apocalypse rumours

The Guardian
December 19, 2012


Members of the Church of the Almighty GodChinese authorities have detained 500 people belonging to a quasi-Christian religious group called the Church of the Almighty God for spreading rumours that the world will end on Friday, according to the country’s official news agency, Xinhua. Four hundred of the arrests, which have taken place over recent weeks, were in the north-western Qinghai province and the remainder in eight other provinces.

“The Qinghai police bureau stated that the police had stormed numerous centres belonging to the Almighty God cult, arresting more than 400 members and confiscating over 5,000 items including banners, DVDs, slogans, books, computers, speakers, and cell phones,” Xinhua reported, adding that the group had “advanced anti-detection capabilities”.

The report did not say which government department had orchestrated the arrests. “It’s the government – which part of the government, nobody knows,” said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing. “The government controls the media, so nobody’s allowed to report on it.”

Human rights groups say the Chinese authorities maintain a vast network of shadowy, extrajudicial agencies that crack down on dissidents and unauthorised religious groups. The most notorious of them, the 610 Office, was established in 1999 to control the spiritual group Falun Gong. The group was outlawed that year after thousands of followers staged a silent protest outside of the Communist party’s central leadership compound in Beijing.

“Though Falun Gong remains the primary focus, its targets now include house church Christians, Buddhists and other religious or spiritual groups,” said a 2011 report on the office by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation thinktank. “Today, based on extrapolating from district-level numbers on local government websites, we estimate it retains at least 15,000 officers.”

China’s state bureau of religious affairs declined to comment.

Theories that the world will end on 21 December, the last day on the cyclical Mayan calendar, are popular in China. Much of the furore seems to have been inspired by the Hollywood film 2012, a box office hit in China, which used the so-called “Mayan apocalypse” as its central premise.

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