BEIJING (Reuters) - China will crack down further on what it calls "cults" with a new judicial interpretation released on Wednesday mandating harsh punishments for groups proselytizing to government officials or children or linking up with foreign groups.
China's officially atheist Communist Party does not tolerate challenges to its rule. It prizes social stability and religious activities must be state sanctioned.
Authorities have gone after what they view as cults, which have multiplied in recent years, and demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.
The judicial interpretation, release by the Supreme People's Court and state prosecutor, list seven areas for which offenders will face tough penalties, including carrying out cult activities in public or trying to recruit children or state bureaucrats.
In cases considered less serious, where adherents repent and leave the cult, or where they have been coerced into joining a cult, there is an option for punishment not to be imposed, the interpretation states.
China routinely denies accusations from rights groups and Western governments that it seeks to restrict religious activities, but says they must be conducted in accordance with the law.
In September, a court jailed members of a group called Mentuhui, or "Disciples Sect", for causing deaths, organizing the group and illegally collecting money.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel