China has recently detained an underground Roman Catholic priest and 10 Seminarians last Sat., according to a rights group in a statement released on Thursday.
Word of the arrest comes days before President George W. Bush is to meet with President Hu Jintao in Beijing over U.S.-China relations, with religious freedom as one of the main focuses.
The arrests took place on Nov. 12 in Xushui City in Hebei province in China, where Asia News, the Vatican-affiliated news agency said that "repression of Catholics" has been escalating for some time now.
Six of the seminarians from a village outside of Baoding in the northern province of Hebei were released three days after they were detained and sent home, the Cardinal Kung Foundation said.
However, Father Yang Jianwei, a Roman Catholic underground priest, and the other four seminarians from Baoding are still in custody, with there whereabouts unknown, the foundation's statement said. The government officials, numbering about 20, also confiscated many religious books and 7,000 yuan.
President of the Foundation Joseph Kung said in the statement on Thurs., "In the recent weeks, there is a renewed and more intensified campaign by the Chinese government to force the underground Church religious and faithful to register with the official Patriotic Church," in an effort to "institute more control over the underground priests."
Kung suggested that the Olympic Committee use the Games in China as a "bargaining chip to improve China's human rights and religious freedom practice."
In relation to this, a spokesmen from China's foreign ministry said on Thurs. in response to Bush's proposal to China on granting more freedoms to its people, "China has made remarkable achievements in improving human rights. Chinese people fully enjoy democracy and freedom including freedom of religious beliefs."
"Countries should conduct human rights dialogue and exchanges on the basis of equality, mutual respect and the principle of non-interference of each others' domestic affairs," the spokesman added.
In the next week, a former Vatican foreign minister is to visit Taiwan and meet President Chen Shui-bian amid rumors that the Vatican may break diplomatic ties with the island in order to resume relations with Beijing.
China and Vatican relations have been severed since 1951 due to the Marxist take-over of the Roman Catholic Church. Millions of underground Catholics worship in unofficial churches where they are able to uphold the Vatican doctrines and acknowledge the Pope.