Relaymedia

Chinese activist still missing after detention

( [email protected] ) Aug 10, 2008 01:54 PM EDT
BEIJING (AP) — A Christian activist who was detained as he cycled to church for a service attended by President Bush on the opening weekend of the Olympics has not returned home, his brother said Monday.
Accompanied by Pastor Jian-An, President Bush makes remarks after attending church at the Beijing Kuanjie Protestant Christian Church during his visit to the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing, China Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BEIJING (AP) — A Christian activist who was detained as he cycled to church for a service attended by President Bush on the opening weekend of the Olympics has not returned home, his brother said Monday.

Hua Huilin said he and his brother, Hua Huiqi, a member of Beijing's underground Christian church, were stopped by security agents in two black cars on Sunday on their way to the Kuan Jie Protestant Church around dawn.

The pair was taken away in separate cars, and Hua Huilin said he was released a few hours later. He said his brother, however, remained missing.

"We're so worried," Hua Huilin said by telephone Monday. He said he had advised his brother against going because the Olympics were a sensitive period but went along in the end to keep him company.

Hua Huiqi had been planning for days to be at the church at the same time as Bush, but it was not immediately clear what he was planning to do.

A man who answered the telephone at the Beijing Public Security Bureau's spokesman's office Monday said officials there were trying to find out what happened and would only comment when they had "an accurate answer." He refused to give his name, as is common with Chinese officials.

China allows worship only in officially approved churches such as the one Bush visited with first lady Laura Bush, so millions of people pray privately in house churches to avoid detection.

After attending the service Sunday, Bush emerged extolling religious freedoms and gathered for photos with parishioners on the front steps.

"It just goes to show that God is universal," said Bush, who was scheduled to leave Beijing later Monday. "No state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion" — a reference to China's tight control of churches.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters later he could not confirm that Hua Huiqi had been detained but added, "We're disappointed anytime that someone is unable to worship freely."

Hua Huiqi, an underground pastor who has fought against a development project in his neighborhood, has been arrested and beaten several times over the last few years because of his religious activities and has served six months in jail for "obstructing official business."

Human rights groups say that charge stemmed from an incident in which Hua and his mother scuffled with police as they prepared to deliver a petition to the central government over the demolition of their home in 2001.

Chinese authorities often round up activists before and during sensitive periods, taking them to detention centers and other faraway locations. They have already further tightened normally stringent restrictions to curb potential criticism or protests during the Olympics.