ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: April 26, 2016 07:15 AM GMT
Father Yang Jianwei, an underground priest in Baoding, China, has been missing since April 15. (Photo supplied)
Family and supporters of a Chinese priest who went missing April 15 are demanding to see surveillance cameras that could offer clues to the priest's disappearance.
Father Yang Jianwei is one of at least five underground Catholic priests in Hebei province who has been picked up by authorities this month, although two have since been released
A Hebei source reports an increasingly tense situation for the underground church community, which operates unofficially outside the auspices of the official government-run "church," in the province.
The source noted that an obituary of Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, who was harassed by Chinese authorities in the days leading to his death, that he posted online had been removed by authorities.
On. Feb. 2, the state religious administration announced a plan to certify all Catholic priests and to convert all underground priests to the government-sanctioned open church — the latest step in a broader program that began last year for the "Sinicization" of nonindigenous religions, such has Christianity and Islam.
Still, it was unclear in the opaque word of Chinese regulations and security services if Father Yang's disappearance was related to the administration's plan.
Father Yang, from Baoding, was at a motor vehicles facility in Dingxin county with six other people when he left the group to use a nearby bathroom.
"He got off his car to go to a washroom about 40 meters away. His companions realized he went missing after waiting for him for 20 minutes," a Baoding underground priest who asked not to be name told ucanews.com.
Venue officials rejected demands by his companions to check surveillance cameras without permission from Baoding's Public Security Bureau, the source added.
Father Yang is the parish priest of Anzhuang, the largest Catholic village in Baoding with about 3,000 Catholic residents. Baoding is known to be a stronghold of the underground church in Hebei, home to almost 1 million Catholics, according to UCAN estimates.
Bishop Francis An Shuxin, who comes from Anzhuang, said he was aware of Father Yang's disappearance but had no other information. Bishop An was a former leading figure in the underground church before he joined the government-recognized open church in 2010.
In 2005, Father Yang went missing for a short time after he and 10 seminarians were arrested, and later released.
Meanwhile, two priests in neighboring Xuanhua remain missing since disappearing on April 2.
A Xuanhua source told ucanews.com that the whereabouts of Father Wang Ruose and Father Zhang Ruohan were unknown, and that it was unclear why the priests were detained. Two other priests picked up by authorities on April 2 were later released.