Thirty-one Chinese Catholics, including 26 under 18 years old, were arrested by the police in Communist China last week, according to the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation. The Catholics were arrested during a summer school vacation catechism class held in a private home in Fujian province. In addition to the students, Sister Chen Mei, 27, a Catholic nun, and four chaperones were also detained. The children and the carers were released the following day, while Chen Mei remains in jail. The Communist Chinese government requires Christians to worship only in state-controlled associations including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which has rejected all links to the Vatican or the Pope. Many Catholics worship in churches that, while openly loyal to the government association, secretly pledge allegiance to the Pope. Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, said: "The Patriotic Association in the region organizes catechism classes for its own students openly and legally. The underground Roman Catholic Church is not allowed to do the same." He added: "The government intimidates and harasses innocent young children to pressure them and their parents to leave the underground Catholic Church in order to join the Patriotic Association." He continued: "On numerous occasions, the Chinese government has assured foreign governments and their religious leaders that the Chinese constitution guarantees religious freedom to Chinese citizens. We urge these same governments and religious leaders to raise their voices of justice for Sister Chen Mei and hundreds of Roman Catholic bishops and clergy who are currently held in Chinese jails and detention camps." Yesterday, the Chinese government in Beijing issued a law, protecting the 'normal' practices of religious people and organisations. The provisions on Religious Affairs of Beijing city was passed by the municipal people's congress, and should come into force next November 1. Beijing's people's congress said on the state-owned media that the measure was adopted with the purpose of protecting the religious practices of each single individual and the religious organisations in the Chinese capital, which has a high concentration of religious groups and sites. The new law says a place of worship will have to "respect the traditions" and "not interfere with the usual religious practices through debates and propaganda against religion". The measure also foresees that anyone who wants to erect new buildings, set up public facilities, or hold public activities at a religious site must first obtain the approval from religious authorities and from the concerned government department. International observers say the new law, will enable the Chinese government to tighten its control on all religious activities. Many Christians are in prison, together with many members of the ancient indigenous Falun Gong spiritual movement, outlawed by Chinese authorities in July of 1999.
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