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    Religious Cults Feel the Heat from Revamped Website

    New feature allows families to seek loved ones who may have been brainwashed.

    People whose relatives are believed to have fallen under the control of religious cults can now turn to a recently updated online official platform for assistance, a report in Party newspaper People’s Daily said Sunday.

    The website, China Anti-Cult Network, was set up Friday by the Office for Prevention and Handling of Cult Issues under the auspices of the State Council, China’s cabinet, together with accounts on microblogging site Weibo and messaging app WeChat. The aim of the website, according to the report, is to launch a nationwide publicity campaign to combat the spread of religious cults and provide help to victims of such groups and their families.

    In addition to the latest cult-related news and information about the government’s policies on combating cults and the interpretation of anti-cult laws, the website also allows families searching for loved ones who may have fallen into the hands of such groups to post notices online.

    In one recent post on the site, a man called Song Linsen from eastern China’s Anhui province asked netizens to help look for his 60-year-old mother, who is a devout follower of the Quannengshen or Eastern Lightning sect, a cult that has been banned in China since 1995. Song’s mother left home in 2014, the notice said.

    Compared with the website, the accompanying WeChat account provides more interactive content. For example, WeChat subscribers can play mobile games designed to familiarize them with various religious cults present in China.

    In one game, players are asked to identify a picture of Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi among a series of illustrations of the Buddha. Falun Gong has been declared a cult and banned by the Chinese government. “Dear friends, now you have this grand mission,” the game instructions read. “With your piercing eyes, let’s catch Li, the little devil who disguises himself as the Buddha.”

    On the WeChat account there is also a pledge titled “Say No to Cults.” Subscribers can input their names to show their support for the campaign.

    In a judicial interpretation in January, the Supreme People’s Court of China defined a cult as an illegal organization that uses religion or qigong — a kind of healing practice that involves breathing exercises — as a means to deceive and ultimately control its members. Cult leaders whose activities result in especially serious consequences, such as the death of three or more people, can be fined and imprisoned for at least seven years, according to the law.

    The website launched Friday was formerly run by the China Anti-Cult Association, a civic organization founded in 2000 in the wake of the crackdown on Falun Gong. A cached version shows similar content to the website’s latest iteration, except that the new version features a section for missing relatives. The current page also includes more political content, such as speeches from the country’s top leaders.

    Editor: Colum Murphy.

    (Header image: E+/VCG)