View Full Version : Chinese Religious Dissident Escapes From Police Custody

13-08-08, 10:00
Chinese Religious Dissident Escapes From Police Custody

Published: August 12, 2008
BEIJING — Hua Huiqi, a religious dissident detained Sunday on his way to a church service where President Bush was to worship, has escaped from police custody, human rights advocates and family members said.

Mr. Hua, 46, slipped away from his guards on Sunday night, after they fell asleep at a makeshift detention center, and immediately went into hiding, according to relatives and an e-mail message that he sent to the organization Human Rights in China.

Public security agents also seized his 52-year-old brother, Hua Huilin, as the two rode their bicycles to the church, but he was released within hours. The older Mr. Hua said that both men had been roughed up and warned that their legs would be broken if they kept trying to attend services at Kuanjie Protestant Church, an officially sanctioned congregation where Mr. Bush and his family worshiped on Sunday morning.

The younger Mr. Hua, an advocate for religious freedom, is the pastor of a “house church,” an underground congregation that operates outside China’s tightly controlled religious bureaucracy. He has been arrested, jailed and beaten several times.

His mother, Shuang Shuying, 78, is serving two years for “damaging property,” sentenced last year after she used her cane to hit a car that she said was swerving toward her. At that time she was seeking the release of her son from an earlier detention. In recent years, relatives have sought compensation for the demolition of their home to make way for a redevelopment project.

Mr. Hua’s escape is sure to irritate the government when it is eager to keep international attention focused on the Olympic Games. In recent days several small demonstrations have occurred here, most of them orchestrated by foreign activists to urge Tibetan independence. The police quickly broke them up.

Last Thursday, three members of an American Christian advocacy group were dragged away from Tiananmen Square after they held a prayer vigil and news conference on religious freedom.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau declined to confirm if Mr. Hua was detained. In a telephone interview on Monday, his brother said the police had called him repeatedly, asking where Mr. Hua was. During the interview, the line was disconnected five times, which the brother attributed to monitoring by security agents.

Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China, said Mr. Hua had called its Hong Kong offices after his escape and asked staff members there to publicize his plight. “He fears for his safety,” Ms. Hom said.

She said the detention of the brothers highlighted a contradiction between the government’s claims of religious freedom and the reality experienced by those who tried to worship outside state-run institutions. She cited comments by Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, who insisted last week that Chinese citizens had complete religious freedom. “This does not seem to be the case of someone enjoying religious freedom,” she said.

Mr. Hua twice eluded surveillance on Sunday. The police had warned the brothers not to leave the house, posting officers outside. At 1 a.m., the two slipped out and cycled toward the church.

In the e-mail message to Human Rights in China, Mr. Hua said that shortly after 6 a.m., seven or eight plainclothes officers pulled up in two cars, yanked the brothers from their bikes and beat them. They were taken in separate vehicles to an office near the church, he said.

Mr. Hua wrote that the officers had confiscated his Bible. But, after four or five hours, the two guards fell asleep and Mr. Hua quietly walked away. “But now, I’m afraid to go home,” he wrote.

In the past week, a dozen people, mostly Americans and Canadians from Students for a Free Tibet, have been detained and deported after they unfurled Tibetan flags or, in one case, staged a “die in” at Tiananmen Square. In one protest, four activists hung a large banner that read “One World One Dream Free Tibet” near the National Stadium.

John Hocevar, a group spokesman, said the authorities had been inconsistent. At Tiananmen Square on Friday, four people splattered themselves with red paint and lay down as a fifth shouted slogans for more than 10 minutes before the police led them away. Later, he gave hours of interviews without police intervention. But protesters could not pull out a banner on Saturday before officers tackled them.