Chinese activist detained on way to church

Aug. 10, 2008, 8:58 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) A Christian activist was detained as he cycled to church in the Chinese capital for a service attended by U.S. President George W. Bush, who emerged later extolling religious freedoms before continuing with his Olympics visit.

Also Sunday, five Tibet activists, including a Tibetan woman from Germany, were taken away by security agents after protesting near Tiananmen Square, the latest in a series of small, short-lived attempts by demonstrators to use the games to showcase their causes.

Hours before, Hua Huilin said he and his brother, Hua Huiqi, a housing activist and member of Beijing's underground Christian church, were stopped by two black cars while bicycling to Kuan Jie Protestant Church around dawn.

Hua Huilin said they were taken away in separate cars by security agents, whom his brother recognized from previous encounters. Hua said they took away his brother's Bible and cell phone. He was released in the afternoon but Hua Huiqi was still at an undisclosed location, he said.

"I told him not to go because it's during the Olympic Games and this period is sensitive," Hua Huilin told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "But he was determined to go because he said that church was where he was baptized. So I went with him hoping to protect him."

The line was disconnected three times during the conversation with Hua, in a sign that authorities were monitoring the telephone.

Hua Huiqi had been planning for days to be at the church at the same time as Bush, but it was not immediately clear what he was going to do.

A man who answered the telephone at the Beijing Public Security Bureau's spokesman's office said they would try to find out what happened. He would not comment otherwise or give his name, as is common with Chinese officials.

China allows worship only in officially approved churches such as the one Bush visited Sunday with first lady Laura Bush, so millions of people pray privately in house churches to avoid detection.

After attending the service, Bush gathered for photos with parishioners on the front steps.

"It just goes to show that God is universal," Bush said. "No state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion" - a reference to China's tight control of churches.

It was not clear if Bush was aware of Hua's situation.

In the Tibet protest, Padma-Dolma Fielitz, a 21-year-old Tibetan, and another activist held the Himalayan region's national flag aloft just outside the south entrance of Tiananmen Square, according to a statement by Students for a Free Tibet.

Photos on the group's Web site show a woman identified as Padma-Dolma being dragged on the ground as police and plainclothes agents try to wrest the flag from her.

Shortly after, three other activists tried to unveil a banner that said "Tibetans are dying for freedom," but were stopped by authorities, the group said. All five protesters - including two Americans and two Canadians - belong to the New York-based group.

Later Sunday, John Hocevar, a member of the activist group who videotaped the protest, told AP Television News that Chinese officials had escorted the group onto a plane bound for the United States.

Many Tibetans insist their region was an independent nation before Chinese Communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing says it has been part of its territory for centuries.

Pro-Tibet activists say China is using the Olympics to legitimize its rule in Tibet.

Chinese authorities often round up activists before and during sensitive periods, taking them to detention centers and other faraway locations. They have already further tightened normally stringent restrictions to curb potential criticism or protests during the Olympics.

Hua Huiqi, an underground pastor who has fought against a development project in his neighborhood, has been arrested and beaten several times over the last few years because of his religious activities and has served six months in jail for "obstructing official business."

Human rights groups say that charge stemmed from an incident in which Hua and his mother scuffled with police as they prepared to deliver a petition to the central government over the demolition of their home in 2001.