Fifty detained Chinese Protestant leaders were released by authorities following the intervention of U.S. high officials, a Chinese Christian persecution watchdog reported.
"According to a reliable source from a high level government agency, the release was ordered from the Chinese central government because of increasing international pressure on this case," a statement from the China Aid Association (CAA) on Friday read. The arrest of the 50 Protestant leaders was first reported by the CAA on Oct. 20.
According to the association, the leaders were attending a retreat in Gougezhuang Village, Laishui County, Hebei Province, when the Public Security Bureau (PSB) and the religious affairs officials of the City of Baoding arrested the church leaders at around 4:00 pm on Oct. 20. The retreat, which gathered leaders of independent house churches from over 20 provinces, was planned to discuss how best to help the poor, orphaned, and the floating population in urban areas.
After the arrests, the CAA, religious and secular media reported on the incident, thus prompting the reaction of U.S. officials, the persecution watchdog group said.
According to the CAA report, an aide of U.S. Congressman Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., at the House International Relations Committee contacted the State Department to urge action to release the church leaders.
The CAA believes the pressure from U.S. officials was the major factor in leading to the immediate release of the arrested house church leaders the following morning.
"The relatively quick release of these church leaders is certainly a welcomed step in the right direction," said CAA President Bob Fu said in the released statement. "The arbitrarily arrest of innocent citizens and illegal detention are contradictory to international human rights norms. Those officials who abuse its power by beating innocent people should be held accountable."
According to CAA, one of the church leaders 35-year-old law school graduate Dai Hong had been repeatedly beaten by the PSB both on the spot of arrest and during interrogation.
While all of the leaders were fingerprinted and forced to sign their names and ID numbers, Dai demanded to see the police IDs before she provided her ID. Although the request was in accordance with Chinese law, Dai was reportedly taken to another room and beaten by two male policemen, the CAA reported.
A digital camera, a cell phone and some cash were also confiscated without receipt by the police, the watchdog group added.
"The Chinese government is systematically targeting the house church movement in China," Fu commented, saying that it is "no coincident that this kind of incident should happen again before President Bushs upcoming visit to China next month."
Over the years, with the rapid growth of the unofficial house church movement, the Chinese government has tightened the religious law and organized raids, trying to suppress Christian activities.
"We urge the international community and President Bush to pressure the Chinese
government to protect freedom of religion and other human rights," Fu stated on the CAA statement.
President Bush is expected to visit Beijing this year on Nov. 19.