Tangshan Jidong prison - image UCAN
Officials in northern China’s Hebei province have rearrested Father Peter Wang Zhong of Xiwanzi moments before he could walk to freedom following a three-year prison term.
Sources told ucanews.com that Father Wang’s relatives and about 20 laypeople were waiting to pick him from Tangshan Jidong prison at around 4am on 24 July. They saw Father Wang walking toward the prison gates before three or four men grabbed him and dragged him to a nearby police car.
The gates closed while Father Wang was still struggling. The gate reopened about an hour later and two police cars emerged.
Father Wang’s relatives and the laypeople then stopped the car with the priest inside to speak to him. They also demanded to know why the government officials were detaining the priest again.
“Father Wang told us not to create any problems with the officials, that he was okay and asked us let them take him away,” a source said.
There was a short standoff, after which the Catholics backed down. Hours later, Father Wang called his younger sister to say he was safe. Local Catholics suspect the officials want the priest to “work openly” and accept the authority of the government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association.
Officials from Guyuan County asked Father Wang in May what he wanted to do after his release, they said.
Father Wang told the officials he wanted to return to Guyuan because Catholics there needed him, they added.
Sources believe the officials took action at the prison gates as they feared Catholics would protect and hide the well respected priest after he returns to the parish.
Fr Wang was jailed for illegal assembly and for illegally making an official government seal to stamp documents in late 2007 after the consecration of a church in Guyuan.
Auxiliary Bishop Leo Yao Liang of Xiwanzi’s underground community presided at the consecration Mass that was concelebrated by some 20 priests and attended by more than 7,000 people.
Bishop Yao, Father Wang the parish priest, and four other priests were arrested. The other priests were released shortly afterwards. Only Father Wang was sentenced while the bishop was put under house arrest for 30 months.