Chinese activist still missing after detention

Aug. 11, 2008, 5:37 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) A Christian activist who was detained on his way to a church service attended by U.S. President George W. Bush on the opening weekend of the Olympics has not returned home, his brother said Monday.

Hua Huilin said he and his brother, Hua Huiqi, a member of Beijing's underground Christian church, were stopped by security agents in two black cars on Sunday while they were cycling to the Kuan Jie Protestant Church around dawn.

The pair was taken away in separate cars, and Hua Huilin said he was released a few hours later. He said his brother, however, remained missing.

"We're so worried," Hua Huilin said by telephone Monday. He said he had advised his brother against going because the Olympics were a sensitive period but went along in the end to keep him company.

Hua Huiqi had been planning for days to be at the church at the same time as Bush, but it was not immediately clear if he wanted to meet the American president.

A man who answered the telephone at the spokesman's office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau on Monday said officials there were trying to find out what happened and would only comment when they had "an accurate answer." He refused to give his name, as is common with Chinese officials.

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

After attending the service Sunday, Bush emerged extolling religious freedoms and gathered for photos with parishioners on the front steps.

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

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters later he could not confirm that Hua Huiqi had been detained but added, "We're disappointed anytime that someone is unable to worship freely."

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.

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.

Also Monday, a pro-Tibet group said an American blogger who videotaped a series of protests on Tiananmen Square by its members has been deported.

Noel Hidalgo, who was taping the demonstrations for his site, was put on a plane back to New York on Sunday, said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet.

He was rounded up with five activists - a Tibetan woman from Germany, two Americans and two Canadians - who held up banners urging freedom for the Himalayan region and a Tibetan national flag just outside the south entrance of the square. They were also deported.

It was the latest in a series of small, short-lived attempts by demonstrators to use the games to showcase their causes.

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.