BEIJING: Hua Huiqi, a religious dissident who was detained by the authorities Sunday as he made his way to a church service where President George W. Bush was scheduled to pray, has escaped from the police, human rights advocates and family members say.
Hua slipped away from his guards Sunday night after they fell asleep at a makeshift detention center, and he then went into hiding, said relatives and an e-mail message that he sent to the organization Human Rights in China.
His older brother, Hua Huilin, 52, was also seized by the public security agents as the two rode their bicycles to the church, but he was released after a few hours. The older Hua said both men had been roughed up and warned that their legs would be broken if they persisted in their efforts to attend church services at Kuanjie Protestant Church, an officially sanctioned congregation where Bush and his family attended morning services Sunday.
Bush said soon after leaving the church, "No state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion."
The younger Hua, 46, is a vocal advocate for religious freedom and the pastor of a "house church," an underground congregation that operates outside the bounds of China's tightly controlled religious bureaucracy. He has been arrested, jailed and beaten several times, and his 78-year-old mother, Shuang Shuying, is serving a two-year sentence for "damaging property."
Last year, while seeking the release of her son from an earlier detention, Shuang used her cane to hit a car that she thought was swerving toward her. In recent years, family members have been seeking compensation for the loss of their home, which was demolished in 2002 to make way for a redevelopment project.
Hua's escape is sure to irritate the government at a time when it is eager to keep international attention focused on the Olympic Games. In recent days there have been several small demonstrations around the city, most of them orchestrated by foreign activists trying to publicize calls for Tibetan independence, but they have been broken up quickly by the police.
Last Thursday three members of an American Christian advocacy group were dragged away from Tiananmen Square after they held a prayer vigil and news conference on religious freedom.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau has declined to confirm that Hua was detained at all. In a telephone interview Monday, his brother said he had received repeated calls from the police asking about the fugitive's whereabouts. The line was disconnected numerous times during the conversation. Hua attributed the disruption to public security agents who had been monitoring his phone.
Sharon Hom, the director of Human Rights in China, said the younger Hua had called the organization's Hong Kong offices after his escape and asked staff members there to help publicize his plight. "He fears for his safety," she said.
She said the detention of both men highlighted the contradiction between the government's claims of religious freedom and the reality experienced by those who try to worship outside state-run institutions. She cited comments by Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, who insisted last week that Chinese citizens have complete religious freedom. "This would not seem to be enjoying religious freedom," Hom said.
Hua, it seems, twice eluded tight surveillance Sunday. The police had warned the Hua brothers not to leave the house Sunday and had posted officers outside to make sure. But at 1 a.m. the two men slipped past the cordon and began making their way to the Kuanjie church on bicycles.
In the letter he wrote to Human Rights in China, Hua said that shortly after 6 a.m. seven or eight plainclothes officers had pulled up in two cars, yanked them from the bikes and beaten them.
The brothers were put in separate vehicles and taken to an office not far from the church.
In his letter, Hua said the officers had confiscated his Bible and watched him as he prayed. But after four or five hours, the guards grew sleepy and nodded off. Hua simply stood up and quietly walked away. "But now," he wrote, "I'm afraid to go home."