08/11/2006, 00.00
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Hebei priest tortured and bishop arrested to stop pilgrimage

More details about the arrests, which occurred several days ago in Hebei province, have come out. Another priest has also disappeared. The diocese was organising a pilgrimage to Mount Muozi.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Stopping a pilgrimage was the reason the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) had the bishop, a priest and scores of faithful arrested. Sources told AsiaNews that the priest who was arrested was also tortured.

On August 3, AsiaNews reported the arrest of Mgr Yao Liang, Fr Li Huisheng and 90 worshippers from the diocese of Xiwanzi (Hebei province). Now sources have provided AsiaNews with greater details about the arrests. What is most disturbing is the fact that the bishop was tricked into his arrest. The RAB invited the prelate to Zhangjiakou to "discuss the restitution of some properties belonging to the Church" at which time he was detained. He has not yet returned since then.

It has also transpired that Father Li was first arrested on August 1, tortured and then released at night. Those worshippers who met him saw a man unable to walk, suffering from bouts of vomiting, enduring severe pain to the head. "There was no blood on him" though, but they still took to a hospital right away from where he was eventually released.

As a result of this violence, more than 90 faithful (from the Shangyi church, Xiwanzi diocese) demonstrated in front of the police station. There they were charged by police, beaten and forced to disperse.

Later at night, from 2 to 4 am, some 500 police officers started rounding up people. They again arrested Father Li, who had returned to his church, and another 90 people.

At least 20 of them are still in prison with Father Li. Bishop Yao is still held in some unknown location and another priest from the diocese, Fr Wang Zhong, has also gone missing.

A pilgrimage to Mount Muozi in Inner Mongolia was behind the police operation. For more than century the diocese had organised the event but this year the RAB and the police banned it.

Hebei province has the highest number of Catholics in China (about 1.5 million), mostly in the underground Church, who refuse the control by the Patriotic Association. For this reason, the latter has recently launched a campaign in the province to arrest bishops, priests and faithful in order to force them to submit.

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