China cult
Police stand guard outside a court during the trial of five cult members charged with murder in Zhaoyuan, Shandong province, August 21, 2014. China put on trial five members of a banned religious group on Thursday for the murder of a woman who was beaten to death at a McDonald's after police say she refused to give them her telephone number when the group apparently tried to recruit her. Reuters/Stringer

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A court in China's northeast Liaoning province has sentenced five members of a banned religious cult to prison for trying to spread rumors and recruit believers, state media reported on Saturday.

China's Communist Party, obsessed with social stability, brooks no challenge to its rule. It has cracked down on cults, which have multiplied in recent years. Demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that the five accused, who live in the city of Panjin, were members of the group Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God. It said they were caught with proselytizing materials in their possession.

Quannengshen gained notoriety in 2014 when a video distributed online appeared to show group members beating a woman to death at a McDonald's food chain. That incident led to two members being sentenced to death for murder.

(Reporting by Pete Sweeney)