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Pastor's Beijing protest makes waves

August 7, 2008 |  3:16 pm

A hotel room at the Novotel in Beijing is seen after it was painted with slogans by American pastor Eddie Romero on Aug. 6.

(Post updated at 4:26  p.m. with information from Steve Runnebohm, dean of humanities and social sciences at Mt. San Antonio College.)

(Post updated at 3:25 p.m. with information from Eddie Romero's daughter, 32-year-old Los Angeles resident Sarah Yetter.)

Did you hear the one about the American pastor who checked into upscale hotels in Beijing earlier this week, filmed himself painting two of his rooms with anti-Beijing slogans and then disappeared into the night without paying?

It sounds like an urban myth, but Associated Press reports that an "American pastor" named Eddie Romero did just that. The unusual protest is now making its way around the world via websites, including this one that have video of the protest.

Ticket To Beijing has put in a call to confirm what the AP story states -- that Romero is a part-time philosophy professor at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. (Update: College officials confirmed at 3:36 p.m. that Romero is a part-time professor of philosophy.)

Updates from Sarah Yetter: "What he's doing is trying to bring attention to the plight of people of faith in China, as well as highlighting the deficiencies of human rights in China," Yetter said.

His chosen route? "An act of nonviolent civil disobedience," Yetter said. "He created two artistic murals in two Beijing hotel rooms." (And, no, that isn't Romero on the bed in the photo. Yetter said it is "an effigy," and that video now online was transferred via his computer.)

Yetter said that her father "felt a call to do something about it. ... He's always been about justice and action for people who don't have a voice."

When asked if her father has done anything like this before, Yetter said: "No, he hasn't. But I'm proud of him for taking a stand, taking this risk."

Police reports have been filed, according to the AP, and Romero is said to be in hiding until after the Games end. At which point, Romero will reportedly turn himself in to the police.

Bob Fu, a leader of Texas-based China Aid Assn., said he's known Romero for years.

"He is a deeply sincere man who is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation on religious freedom in China," Fu said in a telephone interview. "He is trying to use the most nonviolent, nondisruptive way to get the media attention to highlight the grave situation in China."

Updates from Steve Runnebohm: Romero has been a part-time philosophy professor for about eight years and is scheduled to teach "Introduction to Philosophy" and "Major World Religions" during the fall term that begins on Aug. 25.

Runnebohm said that knew that Romero was heading to Beijing for the Games: "I knew Edward had planned to go to Beijing to attend the Games. He mentioned that he intended to make his feelings known about his sense of outrage about the oppression that occurs for many Chinese people. But he offered no specifics and I didn't ask for any."

"As a colleague of Prof. Romero, I'm very, very concerned about his well-being,"  said Runnebohm, who hasn't spoken to Romero since before he departed for China. "We're hopeful that he's not violated any laws that could cause him to be detained in China," Runnebohm said.

Update from Tony Thomas: Thomas is a British pastor who has known Romero for several years. During a telephone interview, Thomas said that Romero plans "to stay underground in China until the Games are over. He is completely on his own -- there is absolutely no question of him getting any kind of support from the Chinese underground church. He does not want anything to come back on the churche. So he is purposefully staying away from them."

Romero, Thomas said, "plans to stay in China until a few days after the Games are over. Then he will surrender himself to the authorities." Thomas said that Romero's church is unable to contact him during his stay in China.

Stay tuned.

Post updated at 7:25 with input from an Tony Thomas, a British pastor who is in California while Romero is in China.

Post updated at 9:40 p.m. PST. Romero's daughter, Sarah Yetter, reports that the hotel room was paid for; the hotel was concerned about "the property damage that occurred."

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: A hotel room at the Novotel in Beijing is seen after it was painted with slogans by American pastor Eddie Romero on Aug. 6. Credit: Aritz Para / Associated Press