A Vatican-appointed Catholic bishop and seven priests have been arrested in Hebei Province, China.
The priests, along with an unspecified number of seminary students, were reportedly detained on 20th May for allegedly "violating the country's repressive new regulations on religious affairs."
63-year-old Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang Diocese was arrested the following day, as reported by UCANews. The arrests reportedly came after the diocese decided to use an abandoned factory building as a seminary.
The Xinxiang Diocese is not recognised by the Chinese authorities. Bishop Zhang was ordained secretly in 1991 without the approval of the state-sanctioned Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
The detention of Bishop Zhang, the priests and seminarians follows the introduction of new administrative measures on religious staff which came into effect in China on 1st May. The new regulations include requirements on the qualifications of religious staff. Article 16 states that Catholic bishops must be approved and ordained by the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference.
AsiaNews reported that the bishop and priests are being held in solitary confinement in a hotel, where they are undergoing "political sessions." Students arrested at the same time have been sent back to their families and reportedly forbidden to continue studying theology.
CSW's founder president Mervyn Thomas said in a statement: "CSW condemns these arrests, which follow the introduction of the new regulations on religious staff and appear to confirm fears that restrictions on religious communities will continue to tighten. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of these Christians, and all those detained across China on account of their religion or belief. We also encourage the international community to raise this and other cases of arbitrary detention and harassment of religious leaders, including Elder Zhang Chunlei of Love Church and Pastor Yang Hua of Living Stone Church, with the Chinese government at every opportunity."