Christian Rights Lawyer Disappears After Retracting ‘Forced’ Statement

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on September 1, 2016

Beijing human rights lawyer Zhang Kai, detained last August after he gave legal advice to dozens of Protestant churches facing the demolition of their crosses, has been redetained by Chinese police following his “release” on bail.

Zhang was taken away by authorities in his home region of Inner Mongolia in northern China after he spoke out publicly about being forced to criticize fellow rights lawyers, his lawyer Tan Chenshou told RFA.

“After he made that statement [retracting the criticisms], state security police officers from Wenzhou city [in the eastern province of Zhejiang] traveled to Inner Mongolia to find him,” Tan said. “They went straight to his home.”

Tan said Zhang’s release on “bail” earlier this year was conditional on his not speaking to the media.

“I think it’s very likely [that he will be prosecuted]. We can’t rule it out,” he said. “He was forbidden to talk to the press; Zhang Kai has been targeted for a lot of persecution.”

He called on the authorities to leave his client alone to pursue a normal life.

Scripted remarks

In a pattern that is becomingly increasingly common in political detentions, another detained rights lawyer, Wang Yu, also gave an “interview” to Beijing-backed media after being granted “bail,” saying she regretted her actions, and blaming her boss at the Beijing Fengrui law firm, Zhou Shifeng.

Activists said at the time that her remarks were likely to have been scripted by state security police.

Concerns are growing for the safety of dozens of human rights lawyers and associates locked up in an unknown location by the Chinese authorities in a crackdown that started in July 2015, as the international community marks a day of concern for the victims of enforced disappearances.

During a nationwide operation targeting rights lawyers, activists, their families, and employees, at least 26 of the more than 300 detained, questioned, or otherwise affected were subject to enforced disappearance, according to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network.

Zhang was detained in August 2015 after he gave legal advice to dozens of Protestant churches facing the demolition of their crosses, and ahead of a scheduled meeting with U.S. religious freedom ambassador David Saperstein.

He was held for six months under “residential surveillance” in an unknown location on suspicion of “endangering state secrets” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.”

In a Feb. 25 televised “confession,” Zhang said he had confessed to his “crimes.”

‘Urban improvement’

Zhang was taken away from Xialing Church in the eastern province of Zhejiang, where he had been helping around 100 congregations oppose the province-wide demolition of “illegal” crosses on church roofs.

Chinese media aired footage of Zhang on Feb. 25 “confessing” to the charges, and accused U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid of supporting him.

Zhang’s detention came amid an urban “improvement” campaign which has seen crosses removed from dozens of buildings around Zhejiang’s Wenzhou city, known as China’s Jerusalem for its high concentration of Christian believers.

During the crackdown, Zhejiang Protestant pastors and married couple Bao Guohua and Xing Wenxiang of the Holy Love Christian church were sentenced to 14 and 12 years’ imprisonment respectively by the Wucheng District People’s Court in Zhejiang’s Jinhua city.

At least 16 pastors and other church members in and around Wenzhou have been detained during confrontations with the authorities over the cross removal program.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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