At least three 'underground' priests in northern Hebei province have been detained in the crackdown on human rights activists and Christians not affiliated to the government-sanctioned Church.
One priest has been reportedly tortured and there are fears for the others’ safety.
Father Joseph Chen Hailong of Xuanhua, who serves in the Yanqing and Yongning suburbs of Beijing, was taken away by dozens of plain clothes officers on April 8 when he was travelling with two young people to visit Catholics.
These officers from his Xuanhua hometown reportedly have waited weeks for Father Chen, who was ordained less than two years ago, to appear, Church sources say.
He and his companions were taken on Friday to a guesthouse in Yanqing and then religious officials took the priest from there the next day. His whereabouts are unknown. Family members are worried about Fr Chen who is in ill health. They heard reports that detained Fr Peter Zhang Guangjun, also of Xuanhua, was beaten weeks ago.
Other sources report that Fr Zhang, 40, has been tortured since he was taken away on January 13. Government officials did not allow him to sleep for five nights and days and tortured him physically and verbally, they said.
After several rounds of negotiations between his family and the officials, they allowed Father Zhang to return home temporarily for Chinese New Year in February on the condition that a layperson left his car at the detention center as bail and that the priest remained constantly in contact.
Fr Zhang was taken into detention again on March 8, which he was reportedly beaten again.
Another Hebei priest in detention, Fr Wang Lifang of Zhengding, works under underground Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo. His whereabouts was unknown since he was lured with requests to perform sacraments for the sick.
“All these cases make me wonder if cracking down on the underground community is the work focus of the Hebei government for this year,” said a Church source.
“I feel pain to hear of our priests being tortured and beaten and am in no mood to care how it goes with the political game between China and the Vatican. I only want to pray hard for our good pastors,” he said.
The government wants to brainwash the detained priests because they refused to accept the principle of an independent Church, local sources say.
In Hong Kong, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission issued a statement today, urging the Hebei government to stop the persecution on Catholics, especially in Zhangjiakou district.
The crackdown in that district, which covers Xuanhua and Xiwanzi dioceses, is particularly severe. Since 2007, more than 20 priests have been illegally detained, tortured and forced to attend classes on religious policy.
The statement asks the government to respect religious freedom and to release all the detained priests, including Fathers Li Huisheng and Ren He of Xiwanzi.
Apart from the underground Catholics, more than 150 members of Protestant’s Shouwang Church in Beijing were taken away by police on April 10. While they were released yesterday, Pastor Li Xiaobai remained under detention. More than 100 human right activists were also detained since this year.