China Investigating Attack on Nuns

11 Arrested in Nov. 23 Incident After the Word Gets Out

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ROME, DEC. 14, 2005 ( Public security authorities in Xian, China, have opened an investigation into the beating of 16 nuns who tried to save a school from demolition. Officials have arrested 11 suspects.

Meanwhile, one of the nuns, who risks permanent paralysis as a result of the assault, is recovering from surgery, AsiaNews reported. The government has offered to pay for all medical expenses.

On Nov. 23, about 40 assailants beat 16 Franciscan missionary nuns who tried to stand in the way of the destruction of the diocese’s School of the Rosary.

As a result of the attack, Sister Dong Jianian, 41, suffered a fraction to her spinal column. She is recovering from a three-hour operation.

Another nun, Sister Cheng Jing, 34, was blinded in one eye. Three other nuns were hospitalized, including Sister Zan Hongfang, 34, who was discharged from the hospital with her broken shoulder in a plaster cast.

Initially, government officials had done everything to cover up the incident, AsiaNews said. The police responded late to the sisters’ call for help, and news of the attack was censored from newspapers and Web sites.


The incident, however, garnered international attention. The U.S. bishops’ conference even wrote a critical letter to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to this and to the spread of news locally — by word-of-mouth, text messaging and e-mail — government authorities decided to take action by opening an investigation and detaining 11 of the assailants, AsiaNews said.

According to initial reports, the group of assailants had been enlisted by the Zhaoshen Investment Company, the firm that had bought the school property from government officials and wanted to settle the matter through violence.

Before the attack against the nuns, some of the assailants said they had been «sent by the government education district,» according to AsiaNews.

The school, which the Church already owned, had been confiscated during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. The building had been empty for several years and the government, in breach of Chinese law, sold it to a construction company rather than returning it to its rightful owners.

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