Three Catholic priests in China who refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association – the country's state-sanctioned Catholic church body – were arrested by eight police officers, a human rights group reported Saturday.
The priests – Liang Aijun, 35, Wang Zhong, 41, and Gao Jinbao, 34 – all came from China’s Hebei province and were arrested last Tuesday, announced the Cardinal Kung Foundation in a news release.
"They were hiding in Inner Mongolia in order to avoid the arrests, but they were finally hunted down by the Security Police," the Stramford, Conn.-based group reported.
"They have now all been transferred to an undisclosed location."
Earlier this month, another priest, Fr. Cui Tai, had also been arrested by police after refusing to register with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The 50-year-old priest is reportedly being detained in the Zhuolu County detention.
"[T]here are, as far as we know, still five bishops in jail; many other bishops are under house arrests and severe surveillance; and approximately 15 priests and some Catholic lay persons - an unknown number of them - are also in jail," said Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, in a statement.
"[W]e urge the Chinese government to take steps immediately to stop all persecution throughout China and release all Roman Catholic bishops and clergy together with those faithful of other faith from prisons as a goodwill gesture to Pope Benedict and to restore the world confidence in its leadership," he added.
Communist China has been severely criticized for its human rights and religious freedom violations, especially as it prepares to host the Olympics.
The only Chinese Christian groups currently allowed to operate legally in the communist country are those registered with the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Catholic Patriotic Association. Although registered groups are able to own property and operate without being harassed by local government officials, their internal affairs are subject to interference by government officials or by state-approved church officials. Members of underground "house churches," meanwhile, are able to operate outside government regulations and restrictions but have risked imprisonment and worse.
Among the top concerns in China for Christians are the persecution of unregistered house churches and the forced return of North Korean refugees in China who face torture and even death upon their repatriation.
U.S. human rights activists have urged people not to travel to Beijing to attend the 2008 Olympics unless China grants the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), access to North Koreans hiding in its territory.
Religious and civic activists have also said international media outlets should limit coverage to sporting events as part of the effort to deny China publicity.
"[W]e … need to awaken the world to the ongoing persecution of the Roman Catholic Church in China," Kung stated.,
"The freedom-loving and powerful countries of the world should take into greater consideration – consistently, and persistently, and not haphazardly – all human rights violations in China when forming and implementing their political and commercial decisions in relation to China," he added.
Next week, Christians worldwide will be joining a prayer countdown for Chinese believers ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in China.
As the much-anticipated Olympic Games – Aug. 8-24, 2008 – fast approaches, Christians are being called to "blanket China in prayer" by joining the new "One Minute/One Year/One Country" prayer campaign spearheaded by Open Doors, a ministry that serves persecuted churches.
Participants starting on Aug. 8, 2007 are encouraged to pray for at least one minute, every day at 8 p.m. (Beijing time). The one-year prayer campaign hopes to change the spiritual state of China such as improving religious freedom and freeing imprisoned Christian leaders.