Three Elderly Catholics Released Early From Chinese Jails
HONG KONG (AP) _ Three elderly Roman Catholic priests who have spent much of their adult lives in Chinese prisons have been released early from their latest jail terms, a human rights activist said today.
The three are all prominent members of China’s underground Catholic Church, whose members have been persecuted and jailed repeatedly since China’s 1949 Communist revolution.
Their release does not necessarily signal growing religious tolerance by the Communist regime, and may be connected to their age, said John Kamm, a Hong Kong-based activist who has won freedom for several Chinese dissidents over the past year.
Asia Watch, a New York-based human rights group, also said the releases did not reflect growing religious tolerance in China.
″These releases are welcome, but the overall picture is clearly still one of widespread harassment and persecution,″ said Robin Munro, an Asia Watch spokesman.
Kamm said Bishop Peter Liu Guandong, 72, and the Rev. Wang Yijun, 75, were released six months before completing three-year sentences. The Rev. Joseph Jin Dechen, 72, was released on parole two years before his 15-year jail term ends.
According to a statement from China’s Ministry of Justice, circulated by Kamm, the three were released because ″they were over 70 years old and had no one to look after them.″ It also said local religious organizations would pay for Liu and Wang’s living expenses.
Liu, the Vatican-appointed bishop of the Yixian diocese in Hebei, headed China’s underground Catholic Church. He has spent nearly 25 years in jail, with the most recent term starting in 1989 during a nationwide crackdown on religion.
Wang, the vicar general of Zheijiang’s Wenzhou diocese, has been jailed for about two decades. Jin, the vicar general of Henan’s Nanyang diocese, has served more than 25 years in jail.
Kamm said he was optimistic that another elderly priest, 76-year-old Yang Libo, would be released before his three-year sentence ends in six months.