Christian activist's whereabouts unknown after detention in China

A prominent Chinese Christian activist managed to escape from police and is in hiding, a rights group and his brother said Tuesday.

A prominent Chinese Christian activist managed to escape from police and is in hiding, a rights group and his brother said Tuesday.

Hua Huiqi, a leader of the unofficial Protestant church in Beijing, was detained by police with his brother as they were heading to the Kuanjie Protestant Church in Beijing on Sunday. U.S. President George W. Bush was attending a service there during his Olympics visit.

The New York-based Human Rights in China group said Hua Huiqi contacted them directly Monday and gave details of what happened.

Hua told the rights group that he and his brother were bicycling to the church when they were taken by plainclothes security agents.

He said that during their detention they were put in separate locations. The brother, Hua Huilin, said he was released a few hours later but Hua Huiqi remains missing.

Hua said he was intercepted by "seven to eight plainclothes officers who beat me and dragged me and my brother Hua Huilin into two separate cars," the group said.

"They asked me why I was going to Kuanjie Protestant Church to worship and threatened me, saying, 'You are not allowed to go … because President Bush is going there today. If you [try to] go again, we will break your legs,"' the group said Hua wrote.

"After about four or five hours, when I saw that the people who were watching me had all fallen asleep, I fled. But I'm afraid to go home," he wrote.

Phone calls confirm escape

Hua Huilin said Tuesday he had received at least two calls from public security officers telling him that his younger brother had escaped and that they were seeking information on his whereabouts.

Police denied any involvement in his disappearance.

"We have not had any contact with Hua Huiqi," an official at the Beijing Public Security Bureau's spokesman's office said Tuesday.

"I haven't heard from him. We've been waiting here. We're so worried," Hua told the Associated Press by phone. "My father asks me every day where he is, and I tell him I don't know."

Chinese authorities often round up activists before and during sensitive periods, taking them to detention centers and other faraway locations.

They have further tightened normally stringent restrictions to curb potential criticism or protests during the Olympics.

Hua Huiqi has become a symbol for the fight for religious freedom in China, which allows worship only in Communist party-approved churches such as the one Bush visited. Unauthorized gatherings are routinely broken up and their leaders are often arrested or kept under extremely tight surveillance.

Human Rights in China said that police had warned Hua not to try to go to the church that Bush visited, but the brothers said they managed to slip through security officials guarding their house.