Two Chinese Catholic bishops have been imprisoned in China for a total of 40 and 51 years each, and the country’s communist authorities appear to have thrown away the keys. Outside observers do not know whether they are dead or alive, and when asked about the men and their whereabouts, Party officials have simply said they don’t know.
Upon seizing power in 1949 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) vowed to eradicate religion and forcefully broke up congregations, smashed religious buildings, and either forced recantations from or imprisoned believers. The two men, Bishop James Su Zhimin and Bishop Cosma Shi Enxiang, were victims of these early campaigns.
But rather than being left alone after the initial purge, both the men were persecuted repeatedly throughout their lives.
Su Zhimin, prior to his final arrest at 65 years of age on Oct. 8, 1997, was previously jailed over five times by Party authorities and spent over 26 years in prison, according to AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news service that is campaigning for his release. At some point during that period he received a beating so severe that he went partly deaf, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, based in Stamford, Conn.
Su was labeled a “counterrevolutionary” in the 1950s after he refused to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (the organization used by the CCP to supervise China’s Catholics, displacing the authority of the Vatican), according to AsiaNews.
Both men were bishops loyal to Rome, thus forced to effectively operate underground in China. For that reason were targeted by communist authorities.
Shi Enxiang spent the years between 1957 and 1980 in forced labor camps and coal mines. He was set free for three years, and then put under house arrest for another three years, beginning in 1983. Then he was arrested in 1989, and held until 1993. In 2001 he was detained again, and remains so. He has spent 51 years in captivity, according to AsiaNews.
AsiaNews brought attention to the two bishops, demanding an investigation into their whereabouts and calling the Chinese regime’s response to questions—that they don’t know where the men are—”ridiculous.”
“There’s no religious freedom in China,” said Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, in a telephone interview. “We don’t even know where they are and we’re not even sure whether they’re still alive.”
He said the Obama administration should do more to look out for the rights of people such as these. “It is important to support religious freedom in China, and I think foreign policy should be based on it,” he said. “It’s the most basic principle of human rights.”