(CNSNews.com) – As President and Mrs. Bush head to China, three American Christians who were briefly detained Wednesday for protesting in Tiananmen Square were arrested again on Thursday when they tried to hold a press conference at the Beijing landmark.
In the run-up to the Olympic Games, the three have been trying to draw attention to human rights violations, including forced abortions linked to China’s coercive population control policies.
Brandi Swindell and Michael McMonagle of the pro-life group Generation Life and Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, were arrested on Thursday morning Beijing time, according to a statement released by Rob Schenck, president of the Washington D.C.-based National Clergy Council.
One day earlier, the three were removed from Tiananmen Square by Chinese officials after they displayed a banner reading “Jesus Christ is King” in English and Mandarin and reported called out slogans about rights abuses, including the bloody clampdown on pro-democracy protests in the square in June 1989. They were questioned and allowed to leave.
McMonagle, of Philadelphia, said in a statement later that the protest was “in solidarity with Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan monks, victims of forced abortion and all those who have been severely punished for their beliefs.”
“As the Summer Olympics are being celebrated, millions of Christians and those with other faith traditions are routinely oppressed, tortured and jailed by Chinese officials,” Mahoney said in a statement. “It is a privilege and honor to be able to stand with those who are persecuted.”
He expressed hope that President Bush would “boldly speak out” about rights violations while in China.
The president, who is heading for Beijing to attend the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, delivered a speech in Thailand Thursday in which he declared that “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists.”
Bush and other world leaders earlier came under pressure to boycott the opening ceremony to protest China’s human rights record at home and support for repressive regimes in Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe. He declined to stay away, saying he viewed the Olympics as a sporting event.
When he met with Chinese dissidents at the White House residence on July 29, Bush “assured them that he will carry the message of freedom as he travels to Beijing for the games, just as he has regularly made this a priority in all of his meetings with Chinese officials,” a White House spokesman said at the time.
It is not clear whether the president plans to make any public statements about human rights while in China, although he does plan to visit a church in Beijing on Sunday.
As on previous visits by Bush and other senior U.S. officials, the church will be one belonging to the state-sanctioned “patriotic” Protestant organization.
The Three Self-Patriotic Movement (TSPM) boasts official membership figures of 16-18 million, while a Catholic “patriotic” counterpart has some five million members.
Christian observance outside the two official organizations is illegal, but many millions more Chinese attend non-approved churches – underground Protestant house churches and Roman Catholic congregations loyal to the Pope.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body that advises Congress and the administration, almost 700 Protestant leaders not registered with the Chinese government were detained in the past year, and more than 30 Catholic bishops and priests are in custody.
McMonagle, one of the three Americans arrested in Beijing, said the banner they unfurled in Tiananmen Square was intended to summarize a statement made by the late Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei, the Roman Catholic bishop of Shanghai who was jailed for 30 years.
In Shanghai in 1956, when forced in front of a microphone in a packed stadium to confess his “crimes,” Kung reportedly cried out, “Long live Christ the King. Long live the pope.”
Pope John Paul II in 1979 named Kung a cardinal “in pectore” (in the heart) – not naming him publicly for his own safety. He was eventually allowed to travel to the U.S. in 1987 for medical treatment, and died in 2000, aged 98.
Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, said Thursday he was encouraged by Bush’s remarks.
“Due to hosting the Olympics, China is in the world’s spotlight. And although this is a sporting event, the country’s human rights record is fair game for dialogue.”
Moeller called on Christians to pray that the leadership in Beijing would recognize the need “to make religious freedom available to all Chinese.”