A church near Wenzhou demolished by Chinese authorities in 2014 because of a dispute over its size

The German ambassador to China has made an official request that the Beijing government release Peter Shao Zhumin, the bishop of Wenzhou, reports Asia News. It is thought to be the first request of this kind made to China in 10 years.

In his official statement on his embassy’s website in Beijing, Michael Clauss also expressed serious concern about China’s proposed amendments to its rules regulating religious affairs.

Referring to the amendments, Clauss said: “I welcome China’s declared intention to achieve progress with regard to the Catholic Church. However, despite progress in this direction, we also see setbacks in guaranteeing religious freedom. One case of growing concern is the treatment of Bishop Shao Zhumin by the authorities”.

The regulations, drafted in September 2016, but which have already been referred to as “definitive”, ​​control every aspect of religious activity – including religious education, the types of religious organisations that can exist, and where; the activities they can organise, and the placement of Catholic priests. If implemented, says Asia News, they will render any “underground” and unregistered activity as “criminal”, suffocating or eliminating underground communities.

Bishop Shao was appointed in September by the Vatican as bishop in the eastern coastal city of Wenzhou, which has a large Christian community. Since his appointment he has been frequently abducted; it is thought the bishop is being pressured to join the Patriotic Association which wants independence from the Vatican for the Church in China.

There are an estimated 100 million Christians in China, many in the Wenzhou region of Zhejiang province, where church leaders are continually challenged by the authorities, especially over the demolition of crosses.