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LISBON (Reuters) - A Portuguese court has handed long prison sentences to six members of a bogus religious cult that sexually abused boys, including their own children, under the pretence of rituals on a farm just southeast of Lisbon.

Tuesday's verdict by the Setubal district court sentenced Rui Pedro, the 36-year-old leader of the self-proclaimed Celestial Truth sect, to 23 years after finding him guilty of rape, procuring prostitution, child pornography and other crimes, a court official said on Wednesday.

His wife and four other men were sentenced to prison terms of between 7 and 19 years. Two women were acquitted. The crimes were committed between 2011 and 2015, mostly on a farm rented by the group in 2014.

Prosecutors told the court that the cult was fake, and its rituals set up as a means to lure and scare the children.

The eight victims, including the leader's son and the son of another of the sentenced men, had been told that the sect's "Master" had supernatural powers and could perform "acts of purification" on them, which was the term for sexual abuse.

The boys, aged between 5 and 16 at the time of the crimes and mostly from the Setubal area, were kept in fear of his powers so they never disclosed what happened to anyone.

Their families had been led to believe the children played football or studied and received psychological counselling or religious guidance on the farm.

Police arrested the group in 2015 after one of the members, Andre Marques, reported them to the authorities. He was still sentenced to 19 years, as the court ruled that he had only cooperated "to save his own skin", daily newspaper Publico reported.

(Reporting by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Reuters