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Petition for release of Wenzhou bishop

HONG KONG (UCAN): More than 22,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that China release Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, who has been taken away from his diocese to one of the country’s more remote, albeit more picturesque provinces.

The signature campaign for the release of Bishop Shao, who belongs to an unofficial Church community but was also coadjutor to the late Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang, from the official community, was offered online in seven languages through the website, CitizenGO, is addressed to Chinese, American and European Union ambassadors.

The petition says that the authorities have detained and re-located Bishop Shao away from his home diocese. The authorities have done this to stop him from being “installed as the new, senior bishop of Zhejiang (Wenzhou).”

The appeal further states that the government needs to seriously consider its stand on freedom of religion to be admitted into the developed world of human rights. It states that releasing and reinstating Bishop Shao would be a good start.

Bishop Shao is not recognised as a bishop by the Chinese government or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

An anonymous Church source from Wenzhou said that the petition campaign is needed as “it creates pressure that affects the decision of the authorities on how to handle our bishop.”

The source also said that there is no clear information about when Bishop Shao will return.

Bishop Shao was first picked up from his diocese to prevent him from presiding at the funeral of his predecessor, Bishop Zhu, who died on September 7, as this would be a strong statement of his succession.

He was allowed to return after the September 13 funeral, but was taken to Qinghai in the northwest of the country again when Bishop Anthony Xu Jiwei, who had dual Vatican-Beijing recognition and managed the official community in neighbouring Taizhou, died on September 25.

It is understood that the repeat forced travel was to prevent him from presiding at the funeral Mass for Bishop Xu, which, as bishop of Wenzhou, would be his prerogative.

The petition was launched as China published its third action plan on human rights for 2016 to 2020 on September 29 declaring its aim to respect, protect and promote human rights.

“The action plan is only something on paper. The question is how it will be implemented,” Patrick Poon Kar-wai, from Amnesty International, said.

“In the past year there were Protestant pastors framed and sentenced for protesting against the demolition of crosses,” he explained. “The religious practices of Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims are still subject to great restriction. I think religious freedom will hardly improve in a concrete way.”

Chinese Christians, especially those who defy government-controlled Churches are often subject to extrajudicial measures, including long-term detention and forced disappearance.

“The Chinese government will further tighten up on civil rights, including religious freedom, in the next few years to consolidate its regime,” Poon concluded.

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