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AsiaNews (12/19/05) – A group of priests and nuns were brutally beaten with iron bars, bricks and clubs by a group of « thugs » in Tianjin , a Chinese sea-side city, 150 km from Beijing , after having demonstrated against the expropriation of several buildings belonging to their diocese of Taiyuan and Yuci ( Shanxi ). The dynamics of the violence resemble to a large extent the incident that occurred in Xian several weeks ago, when 16 nuns were beaten for having stood in the way of the demolition of a diocesan school.

The Tianjin incident took place on December 16, at 2.15 p.m. One priest was knocked unconscious, a nun suffered head injuries and is still in hospital; other 4 priests are in bad condition. The priests called police. Upon the arrival of security forces, the “thugs” fled. The priests implored policemen to take the injured to hospital. The policemen initially agreed, but then took the priests to the police station to question them. They decided to take them to hospital only a few hours later.

The diocese has released an official statement (which is currently being translated).

The group of 48 priests and 2 nuns had arrived in Tianjin on December 15 from Taiyuan to ask for the return of several buildings which belong to the diocese and are located on the harbour front. These Western-style buildings are of great value. Confiscated during the Mao era, according to Chinese law, they were to have been returned to the diocese already in 1979. Instead, the Religious Affairs Bureau has always used them as their headquarters. Recently, the Bureau decided to hand them over to a construction company to restore and commercialize them.

The diocese has been seeking their return since 1993, but never received any response.

On the morning of December 15, the 48 priests and 2 nuns staged a sit-in in front of Tianjin ’s city hall. In the intense cold of the north, in shirtsleeves and wearing stoles, the priests unfurled banners and detailed the diocese’s requests. A few hours later, several officials of the Complaints Department appeared to ensure “dialogue and reconciliation” only if the priests dispersed. At midday, the Taiyuan diocese group moved to a spot outside the confiscated buildings. As these buildings are empty, they took refuge in them to rest, deciding to go back to city hall the next day.

In the afternoon, the deputy mayor of Tianjin convoked a group of 12 priests to initiate dialogue but made no substantial proposal. The following day at 2:15 p.m., a group of thugs arrived on the scene and, on some pretext, had some priests go out to them and then processed to beat these priests.

The priests have decided to stay in Tianjin until justice is done and until a fair solution is found to the confiscation question. The violent act they suffered has aroused the indignation of bishops and the Christian community against police and the Religious Affairs Bureau.

Expropriations and illegalities regarding private property have become common occurrences in China . Due to extensive economic development, many central neighbourhoods in cities are being confiscated and destroyed. Rightful owners are often given paltry compensations, considering the actual value of these properties. Those who try to put up resistance can even be kidnapped. Contractors often act in league with local governments which take measures to cover up their violent measures.