Rome (AsiaNews) - For 15 years the underground bishop of Baoding (Hebei), Msgr James Su Zhimin, has been held in police custody in an unknown location. On the anniversary of his disappearance, 8 October 1997, his family have made yet another request to the police to know the fate of their relative, but the answer was the same as it has been for the past for 15 years: "We do not know where he is".
Some priests of the diocese have told AsiaNews that in any case they do not want to stop putting pressure on the police and the authorities to reveal where they are holding the bishop now in his eighties, who has spent almost half his life, 40 years, in prison.
Their hope is in the change of leadership of the Director of the United Front, which manages the religious policy in the country. Until 1 September, the head was Du Qinglin, under whose command tensions have been heightened between China and the Vatican on illicit ordinations. Now he has been replaced by Ling Jihua, considered a moderate and a great friend of Hu Jintao.
Before his last detention, Msgr. Su Zhimin spent on and off at least 26 years in prison or forced labor camps, branded a "counterrevolutionary" simply because, since the 1950s, he has always refused to join the Patriotic Association, which wants to build a national Church detached from the Pope. In 1996 - from a hidden location because he was sought after by police - he managed to release an open letter to the Chinese government calling for respect for the human rights and religious freedom of the people.
The only occasion his family saw him was in November 2003, when he was discovered by chance in care at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by police and public security. After a brief and hasty visit, he disappeared again in police custody and still today no-one knows of his fate. In all, he has spent 40 years in prison, without charge, without trial.