08/03/2006, 00.00
CHINA

Hebei: bishop, priest and 90 unofficial Catholics arrested

Police from the province – which has the highest density of Catholics, mostly of unofficial status – did not explain why they took the bishop into custody. Local Catholics protested against the injustice: a pregnant woman miscarried and two men were seriously injured in clashes with the police.

Xiwanzi (AsiaNews) – Police of Zhangjiakou arrested the auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Xiwanzi, Mgr Yao Liang, on 30 July and went on to arrest a priest from the same diocese and 90 members of their community who called for their release. This was revealed by the Kung Foundation, a US-based organization that lobbies for religious freedom in China.

The bishop (82years) is being detained in Zhangjiakou city in Hebei: this is the second time he has been arrested; previously he was taken on 31 March 2005. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Fr Li Huisheng (33 years), who was arrested on 1 August, are unknown.

On 2 August, the unofficial Catholic community of Xiwanzi mobilized and presented a petition calling for the immediate release of the bishop and priest. Police responded at 2am of the same day by deploying 500 officers and arresting around 90 people. In ensuing clashes, a pregnant woman miscarried and another two Catholics were seriously injured and hospitalized.

Seventy of those arrested have been released and 20 remain imprisoned.

Hebei is the region with highest density of Catholics (more than 1.5 million) in China and where unofficial Catholics, that is, those who are not recognized by the government, are in the strong majority. For years, a harsh repression campaign has been under way in the region.

The arrest of Mgr Yao adds one more entry to a growing list of bishops from the province currently in custody. The bishop of the diocese of Baoding, Mgr James Su Zhimin, 72 years, was arrested in 1996 and has been missing since; His auxiliary, Mgr Francis An Shuxin, 54 years, met the same fate a year later; Mgr Han Dingxian, bishop of Yongnian, has been missing since the end of 2005 and Mgr Julian Jia Zhiguo, bishop of Zhengding, is always being kidnapped by public security officials. There are around 23 priests in prison too.

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