China has released a bishop of the underground Catholic Church after more than 10 years in prison, a US-based rights group said yesterday.
Bishop An Shuxin (安樹新), 57, arrested in May 1996, was released on Friday and the Chinese government has given him permission to carry out his work as a priest, the Cardinal Kung Foundation said in a statement.
The foundation said An, auxiliary bishop for Baoding diocese in the northern province of Hebei, had not joined the official church under the authority of the Chinese communist government.
"Although he has now been released, he is still under surveillance," according to the foundation, which said six other Roman Catholic bishops were still in prison.
The authorities in Baoding could not be contacted yesterday.
"We hope that this release is not an isolated case, but rather the beginning of the release of many dozens of other Roman Catholic bishops, priests and faithful currently being jailed by the Chinese authorities across China," the Cardinal Kung Foundation said in its statement.
"This would show China's sincerity about improving its relationships with the Vatican and its human rights policy."
Beijing and the Vatican broke off diplomatic relations in the 1950s and since then two Catholic churches have coexisted in China -- an underground one loyal to the pope and the state-sanctioned church which does not recognize the Vatican's authority.
A rapprochement has, however, been underway for several months over the question of the appointment of bishops by the official church, with a compromise over recent ordinations carried out without papal approval.
The state-sanctioned church has about 4 million worshipers, official figures show. The Vatican estimates the illegal, or underground, church has around 10 million.