A Catholic bishop in China is believed to be on the run from state security after refusing to bring his church under a government-sanctioned religious association.
Guo Xijin, 61, has fled the custody of state agents and has gone into hiding, reported Catholic Asia News, a website, and cannot be immediately reached for comment.
Mr Guo is part of a group of bishops that many religious and human rights experts feared would be persecuted after the Vatican inked a deal with Beijing last year on the ordaining bishops.
China has long insisted that it approve appointments, clashing with absolute papal authority to pick bishops. The agreement broke that standoff, and could help pave the way for formal diplomatic ties, but also stoked worries that the Chinese state would have too much power to regulate religion.
Since Communism took hold in China, there have been in practice two Catholic churches - one sanctioned by the government, and an underground one loyal to the Vatican, and it remains unclear what would happen to bishops who refused to fall in line with the government.
China’s officially atheist Communist Party – has engaged in a widespread crackdown on religion in the last few years. Authorities have banned Arab-style onion domes on mosques and other buildings – even if merely decorative.
The UN estimates more than a million Muslims have been detained in chilling “re-education” camps, where former detainees have told The Telegraph they were subject to physical torture, psychological intimidation and political indoctrination.
The government has shut down churches not sanctioned by the Party, detaining priests and members of various congregations. And houses of worship, including Buddhist temples, are now mandated to have pictures of Xi Jinping, the leader of the Party.
Chinese authorities claim that people have freedom of religion – provided that they worship in state-sanctioned temples, churches, and mosques. The government has said that all religious believers must “be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people,” making it explicit that they must also “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”