.- As the opening of the Olympic Games nears, three Christian activists protesting on behalf of religious freedom and human rights were dragged from Tiananmen Square and detained in Beijing on Thursday, marking the second incident in which the group was detained.
According to the Associated Press, Patrick Mahoney, director of the Washington DC-based Christian Defense Coalition, and Brinda Swindell and Michael McMonagle from Generation Life in Idaho attempted to stage a news conference and prayer vigil outside the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall.
Speaking to a small crowd of foreign media, Mahoney said: “We have come here today to speak out against the human rights abuses of the Chinese government. We have come here today to be a voice to those who are in prison because of their religious beliefs.”
Plainclothes security officials reportedly forced the protesters off the square, holding up hands and umbrellas to prevent the incident from being filmed.
On Wednesday in Tiananmen Square the group protested China’s one child policy and its reported practice of forced abortion.
“End the brutality. To those who are forced to go through forced abortions and have no voice, we are your voice," they shouted out to spectators, the Associated Press says. They were removed after unfurling a yellow banner reading “Jesus Christ is King” in English and Mandarin.
"We knelt right there in the middle of Tiananmen Square and began to pray,” Mahony said, speaking to an American radio station on Wednesday. “More people gathered around, we were having umbrellas shoved in our side, kicked...the police of course were there.
"After a while they took the banner and then they picked us up and physically removed us from Tiananmen Square and detained us."
The protesters were held for 45 minutes before being released. Mahony said their passports had been examined and security officers were stationed in their hotel lobby.
He insisted the group was determined to use the attention focused on China during the Olympics to continue to campaign on behalf of persecuted Christians.
Hours before their Wednesday protest, two British pro-Tibetan campaigners climbed two pylons overlooking Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium and unfurled “Free Tibet” banners.
Speaking from Bangkok on Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush called on China to improve its records on human rights.
“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists,” he said, the Times Online reports. “We press for openness and justice – not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.”
“The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” he continued. “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”
The president is scheduled to arrive in China on Thursday and will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao.