04/25/2006, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN
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Underground bishop freed but still under surveillance

Mgr Giulio Jia Zhiguo was returned to his residence while Hu Jintao was on his way to the United States. The Church in Hebei continues to be the target of arrests for its refusal to subscribe to the Patriotic Association.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Mgr Giulio Jia Zhiguo, unofficial bishop of Zhengding (Hebei) has returned to his residence after being detained for more than five months by police. Local sources of AsiaNews said his return was linked to the visit of Hu Jintao to the United States. The quasi-release of the bishop (who is under house arrest, watched day and night) in fact took place while Hu Jintao was on his way to the United States on 19 April.

The bishop was arrested on 8 November last, for the eighth time since 2004. Usually, the bishop is kept in isolation when Christian feasts are held, to prevent him from meeting believers and to be submitted to brainwashing. According to local sources, his last period of detention was no exception: the bishop was subjected to interrogations and pressured to join the Patriotic Association (PA).

For years, the Hebei government has sought to destroy the region's underground Catholic Church, with a community of more than one million worshippers, by forcing priests and bishops to become members of the PA. But bishops refuse because the PA is not a church organization and its statute provides for building a national church, independent of the Holy See. The bishops of Hebei, and Mgr Jia himself, are willing to register their communities at the State Office for Religious Affairs but not with the PA. In the past, the Vatican has often condemned the arrests of Mgr Jia, calling on Beijing to fully respect freedom of worship.

Mgr Jia, who is 70 years, has been a bishop since 1980. He has spent around 20 years in prison.

In November last year, together with the arrest of Mgr Jia, the Zhengding church suffered a wave of arrests:

- On 7 November, Fr Li Suchuan, 40 years, and Fr Yang Ermeng, 35 years, both from Bishop Jia's diocese, were arrested by security agents and taken away from their parishes in the villages of Zhoujiazhuang and Zhoutou in Jinzhou region. They were released on 21 November.

-  Fr Yang Jianwei was arrested on November 12, along with 10 seminarians. After three days, six seminarians – those from outside Baoding (Hebei) – were freed and sent home rather than back to the seminary. The other four – Fan Fubin, Wang Yongliang, Wang Chunlei and Li Yutao – are still in police custody at an undisclosed location. Fr Yang also remains in police hands.

-  Fr Gao Baojin, rector of a seminary in the Diocese of Zhaoxian (Hebei), was kidnapped by agents of the Religious Affairs Bureau in mid-November last year, and forced to undergo indoctrination courses about the party's religious policy.

-     On 18 November, Public Security of Hebei detained six Catholic priests from the Diocese of Zhengding. Fr Wang Jin Shan and Fr Gao Lingshen, both 50, were not only arrested but also beaten. The other four clergymen – Fr Zhang Xiuchi, 60; Fr Zhang Yinhu, 45; Fr Guo Zhijun, 36; and Peng Jianjun, 30 – were first placed under house arrest and formally detained shortly after.

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