Rome (AsiaNews) - Two priests
from the underground Church are in prison since early October. They are
"guilty" of having organized catechism classes for adults in the town of
Qinyuan , near Baoding (Hebei ). The two men are Fr. Tian Dalong and another
priest whose identity is unknown to AsiaNews, both in their 40s. They were arrested and isolated in police
barracks in Baoding, an area with one of the largest non-official communities.
Four lay faithful, who helped the priests in their pastoral activities have
been forced to pay a fine of 4 thousand yuan each (about 400 EUR ) , accounting
for more than two months' salary of a skilled worker.
According to AsiaNews sources,
there are at least 10 priests in similar conditions, some have even been
sentenced to the laojiao (forced labor camps for "reform through
labor") for years. What
is important about these latest arrests is that they took place just weeks
after the Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party, a meeting which the
leadership loudly proclaimed would produce "unprecedented" reforms.
The world media, coached by
Xinhua's carefully controlled reports, have praised these possible reforms,
focusing on the economic novelties: a gradual reduction of government influence
in the economy; promotion of private investment and foreign tax reform, the
elimination of mandatory residence visas ( hukou ) for migrants; reform of the
one-child law, etc ...
AsiaNews has presented
these aspects also showing the ambiguities (see here,
here and here).
Chinese Catholics are wondering
if the plenum will bring more hope of freedom for Catholics and for religious
freedom in general. These questions focus on the future function of the new
National Security Council launched by the Plenum as an example of the new
According to Xinhua, the National Security Council ( NSC ) should "perfect
the national security system and strategy,
guaranteeing the nations security". The few explanations on how the NSC would
function were given by Xi Jinping, who stated that the new body should "strengthen
the unity of the leadership in state security", making "national
security and social stability preconditions for reform and development "
(Xinhua , 15/11/2013 ) .
Several experts think that "the
unity of the leadership in state security" means that the NSC will be a superior
power to the army, the police, the intelligence services and the judiciary, which
should ensure social stability and internal relations with foreign countries.
Some Catholics in the north and east of China believe this concentration of
power in the hands of the central government , and perhaps the same Xi Jinping,
will promote religious freedom. Very often, the imprisonments, the
expropriation of church land, the arrests of priests and faithful depend on the
decisions of local leaders, who have no qualms in ignoring national regulations
on religion . In addition, strengthening central power could weaken the
Ministry of Religious Affairs - currently among the most Stalinist government
offices - and patriotic associations.
As proof of a certain relaxation
of control in the peripheries, Catholics are quoted as saying that the police
leave underground communities room to breathe, are concerned about the health
of the bishops (for fear of having to face a more serious crises in the case of
an appointment ), maintain dialogue (perhaps to control) with underground
Instead other believers in Beijing and central China say that "nothing has
changed" and that the situation is always the same: underground priests
are imprisoned (such as the two mentioned above); meetings among the faithful are
banned; the Patriotic Association's control is absolute. If you add to this the
list of bishops that have disappeared in police custody over the years, the
bishop of Shanghai still under house arrest, control over other bishops (even
official ones), their conclusion is understandable: "So far, nothing has
changed. We'll see in a few months time
if there is a change of policy. Anyway, this will depend on the idea of
reform that leadership has in mind : the concentration of all power in the
hands of a few may even worsen the situation. "
According to the activist Hu Jia
, the concentration of power "may be used against human rights defenders, those
who support the universal values and freedom of speech and religion - people
who the Party can not tolerate because they see them as a threat to government.
This is confirmed by the Xinhua reports on the final document of the third
Plenum (The final official version of which has yet to be released) reiterates that
all the reforms serve to reinforce the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly of power.