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AsiaNews – “ China is still afraid of religious freedom,” a bishop of the underground Church told AsiaNews commenting on the fact that, as of this morning, Chinese media have yet to mention Bush’s participation in yesterday’s liturgical services at the Protestant church in Gangwashi.

“In the preceding days,” the bishop went on to say, “Chinese media said that the American president would have visited a Protestant church. But this morning, Chinese newspapers made reference neither to his church visit nor to his insistence on human rights.”

Yesterday at 7:30 a.m., George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, took part in services at the Gangwashi Church and stayed on afterwards to chat with the other worshippers and journalists. “My hope is,” Bush said, “that the government of China will not fear the Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths.” Later, during the press conference along with Hu Jintao, the U.S. president said, “It is important that social, political and religious freedoms grow in China . And we encourage China to continue making the historic transition to greater freedom.”

Xinhua news agency was the only media outlet yesterday to mention, in an English-language report (nothing appeared in Chinese), Bush’s church visit, but omitted to quote him on religious freedom and human rights.

This afternoon, the site reported briefly on Bush’s visit to the church saying that it was normal for the American president “to attend church services on Sunday,” adding also that “Beijing is obliged to offer such services.”

Fearing that Bush’s visit could serve as a sounding board to launch messages and petitions internationally, the Chinese government arrested Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo and several other Catholic priests. Even some Protestant pastors, such as Hua Huiqi and Zhang Mingxuan, had been forcibly transferred to the Sichuan and Henan regions, thousands of kilometres from Beijing . The two pastors are known as champions in defending religious freedom, human rights and democracy. Zhang Xingshui, a lawyer engaged in defending Christian prisoners, was taken away to Tianjin (150 km from Beijing) two days prior to Bush’s arrival in the capital.

The government is increasingly nervous about the growing cooperation between human right activists and religious personalities. The Party’s fear is that religious communities will become the milieu for channelling social discontent. Yesterday the church in Gangwashi was cordoned off by police. At least 30 people were stopped or detained. Many of them wanted to meet the U.S. president and deliver to him complaints or petitions on violated rights, such as confiscated land, corruption on the part of leaders, job dismissals.

Prior to Bush’s visit, the government had put at least 20 pro-democracy dissidents under house arrest, including Professor Liu Xiaobo, Liu Di and Qi Zhiyong.