An "Almighty God" demonstration in Weihui, Henan province, on December 11. Photo published on Chinese social media networks. 
Hundreds of followers of a sect that is preaching that the world will end on Friday have been detained over the past week in China. Their crime: spreading “false rumours”.
The group “Almighty God”, also known as “Eastern Lightning”, has been active since the early 1990s, and was declared to be an illegal cult by the Chinese government in 2007. Its followers believe Jesus has been reincarnated as a woman in central China. More recently, they have been preaching that doomsday is slated for December 21, 2012, just like the Mayans predicted.
The group had laid low in the few past decade, ever since some of their members were accused of kidnapping and brainwashing. However, early last week, its followers began to hold unauthorized public gatherings in cities across China, preaching that the end of the world was nigh; in some places, this led to clashes with police.
On December 12, in the city of Denfeng in Henan province, police tried to disperse a gathering of "Almighty God" followers. This led to clashes between police and demonstrators. This photo, like those below, was published on Chinese social media networks.
State media have reported that more than 400 doomsayers have been arrested over the past few days, across several provinces. According to Xinhua News Agency police have also seized leaflets, DVDs and books depicting “Almighty God’s” apocalyptic visions.
“Almighty God” followers have been known to rub authorities up the wrong way by comparing the Communist Party to the Bible’s “great red dragon” – a symbol of Satan.
Their banners read: "Almighty God will comes to save human beings in 2012". On December 11, in the city of Lanzhou in Gansu province, "Almighty God" followers gathered to pray outside provincial government headquarters. 

“This seems like Falun Gong all over again”

Lu Haitao lives in Shanghai.
‘Almighty God’ has worked largely underground since the government decided it was a cult. Its followers are concentrated mainly in Henan province, which is a poor region. People have little education, so it is little surprise that they would have a difficult time differentiating a cult from other religious groups. And it is also little surprise that the authorities would feel threatened by a group that compares the Communist Party to a dragon to be slain. They clearly want to subvert the ruling party.
This seems like Falun Gong all over again. [Authorities have repeatedly cracked down on followers of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that mixes Buddhism, mysticism and exercise.] In both cases, the authorities first used media propaganda to discredit the religious group. In the case of ‘Almighty God’, state media quoted an expert saying that that the man who stabbed schoolchildren last week may have been inspired by the group, even though there was no evidence. Then, the authorities follow up with widespread arrests.
The banner reads: "God really will come down to earth to save people from the apocalypse". This photo was taken during a demonstration on December 10, in Weishi in Henan province.
“It serves little purpose to arrest rumour mongers once the rumour has already spread”
The authorities feel threatened by growing sects like these because China has a long history of revolts inspired by religion. In the 19th century, the rebel Hong Xiuquan claimed he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and founded the group “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom” to revolt against Qing Dynasty. And during the Cultural Revolution, nearly all religious practices were eliminated. After the revolution, when worship was once again allowed, religions boomed.
Today, Chinese have partial religious freedom – we can worship in official churches, mosques and temples, where the clergymen are appointed by the authorities. Other religious organisations, however, are in a legal grey area. The government does not accept their legal existence, but leaves most of them alone.
I think the Chinese government should change its policy and legally register religious organisations. Since these organisations are not official, they work in semi-secret. This lack of transparency could potentially lead to their radicalisation and turn some of them into cults like ‘Almighty God’. If religion is out in the public eye, radicalism is much less likely to develop. Furthermore, I believe it serves little purpose to arrest rumour mongers once the rumour has already spread.