Arrest of two priests “dash hopes” of increased religious freedom in China

.- Just when the release of two Catholic bishops from detention seemed to indicate a positive change in between China and the Roman Catholic Church, Chinese authorities have arrested two Catholic priests returning from a trip to Europe.

Frs. Shao Zhoumin and Jiang Sunian, vicar general and chancellor respectively of Wenzhou diocese in Zhejiang Province were arrested Sept. 25 in Shenzhen of Guangdong Province and taken away to an unknown location.

There still no indication of their whereabouts or the reason for their arrest, according to a release from the Cardinal Kung Foundation. Authorities did take away a number of books and photos that the priests brought back from Europe.

Both priests were previously arrested on Oct. 27, 2005 after they concelebrated a Mass with other priests to close the Eucharistic Year. Fr. Shao was also arrested in 1999. 

In 1999 Fr. Jiang was first detained for publishing hymnbooks. He was sentenced to a six-year jail term and fined approximately US$32,000; he was released in 2003.

“Following the consecutive releases from jail of Bishop An Shuxin and Bishop Jia Zhiguo within the last 40 days, the hunt-down and arrests of these two priests in Shenzhen, which is thousands of miles from their home in Wenzhou, is a sign of the issue of religious freedom turning for the worse,” said Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, in a statement.

“We had hoped that the releases of Bishop An and Bishop Jia were not isolated cases, but rather the beginning of the release of hundreds of other imprisoned religious. We were wrong,” he continued.

“These two arrests … dashed our hopes and proved that ours was wishful thinking.”

Kung said these two arrests also indicated that China “is simply not sincere about improving its relationships with the Vatican and its human rights policy.”

The Kung Foundation renewed its call for the International Olympic Committee to move the Olympic Games scheduled to be held in China in 2008.

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