11/18/2005, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN

10 seminarians and a priest of the underground Church arrested

In the lead-up to the visit of Bush to China, the government is making a clean sweep. However a repression campaign targeting Catholics has been under way in Hebei for some time now.

Rome (AsiaNews/KF) - Fr Yang Jianwei, a priest of the unofficial Church in China was arrested on the afternoon of 12 November together with 10 seminarians, including four from Baoding (Hebei). The arrest was carried out by around 20 public security officials in Xushui City in Hebei province. The reasons for the arrest are not yet known.

Police confiscated several religious books and 7,000 yuan (around 725 euros). After being detained for three days, the six seminarians who hail from outside Baoding were released and sent back to their home towns instead of to the seminary. The other four – Fan Fubin, Wang Yongliang, Wang Chunlei and Li Yutao – are still in police custody and their whereabouts are unknown. Fr Yang is still under arrest too. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2000 and comes from a village of Xushui City, Shakou; there are around 1000 members in the underground Catholic community there.

Saturday's arrests are the latest episode in a recent drift towards tightening control on China's unofficial Church. The campaign of repression is striking Hebei province hardest of all; the underground Catholic community here is larger. On 8 November, Mgr Giulio Jia Zhiguo, unofficial bishop of Zhengding (Hebei) was arrested for the eighth time within a year. The day before the bishop's arrest, Fr Li Suchuan, 40 years, and Fr Yang Ermeng, 35 years, both from the diocese of Bishop Jia, Zhengding, were arrested by security officers and taken away from their parishes in the villages of Zhoujiazhuang and Zhoutou, both in Jinzhou area.

On 29 October, the public security authorities arrested two priests of the unofficial Church in Wenzhou diocese, in the western province of Zhejiang. Fr Shao Zhumin, diocesan vicar-general and the chancellor, Fr Paul Jiang Sunian, had just celebrated the concluding mass of the Year of the Eucharist.

Chinese personalities consulted by AsiaNews surmise a link between recent arrests of Catholics and the upcoming visit to Beijing of American President, George W. Bush (from 19 to 21 November). Traditionally, the authorities tighten control on Catholics in the lead-up to events featuring the presence of well-known public figures and several journalists. They do this to prevent Catholics from dispatching messages, information or petitions to the press, which could embarrass the government and put it in a difficult position.

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