Source: Direct Reports from China
Date: June 19, 2018
The agreement currently being discussed between China and the Vatican on the appointment of Catholic bishops has been and still is a topic of particularly great interest and concern for Catholic clergy and believers in China. Bitter Winter has received information about the surveillance and arrest of a Catholic priest who was invited to Hong Kong to discuss the proposed agreement.
Yan Lixin is a 55-year-old priest from Chengu Village, Shilipu Township in Hebei’s Guangping County who is responsible for parishes of the so-called underground Catholic Church, the bishops of which are appointed by the Vatican, in the towns of Jiecheng, Pengcheng, Fengfeng, and Dashe. The bishop of Hong Kong invited father Yan for talks about the agreement being negotiated between China and the Vatican, so he bought a plane ticket to go there on April 11. Before making the purchase, on April 9, on his mobile phone, he contacted a Japanese journalist who was also invited to the meeting. As it turned out, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) police had been listening to his phone calls, so he was apprehended the same day.
That evening, Father Yan was at a church member’s home, when over a dozen officers from the Handan National Security Brigade burst into the house. After verifying his identity, they took Father Yan to a hotel in Handan where he was kept and interrogated for seven days. The police did not release Father Yan even after they had learned that the Japanese journalist left Hong Kong. Instead, they transferred the priest to a hotel in Guangping. Over ten people took turns watching him and trying to coerce him into joining the official Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association – the government-controlled Catholic body with bishops appointed by the regime. Father Yan refused to do so even after 20 days of detention.
The police released Father Yan in the afternoon of April 28 but withheld his Hong Kong-Macau travel permit and warned him not to contact the Japanese reporter. The National Security Brigade officers also forbade him not to leave the region and ordered to keep his mobile phone on 24 hours a day and answer calls at any time.
Since his release, Father Yan has been under constant police surveillance. Cautious to protect his church members, he holds only a few masses, mostly in deserted places, informing his congregation about the time and location right before the service.
According to Father Yan, freedom of belief and freedom of speech, from a legal perspective, are basic rights that every citizen should enjoy. “My communication with the Japanese reporter was just meant to express opinions on issues of faith and had nothing to do with politics. My arrest and detention, as well as the fact that the CCP was preventing me from contacting the reporter, was a serious violation of the law. In spite of my detention, I will not join the Patriotic Catholic Association.”