New York Times: Chinese Lawyer Detained While Defending Churches Is Reported Released

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The New York Times
By Edward Wong
March 24, 2016

■ Beijing — A lawyer who was detained in southeasternChina while defending churches that were being forced to remove their crosses has been released by the police, according to a post on his main Chinese social network account.

The lawyer, Zhang Kai, was detained in late August and made a televised confession last month, apparently under coercion.

The brief message posted to Mr. Zhang’s account on the WeChat social network late Wednesday said that he was back home. “I have returned to my home in Inner Mongolia safely,” it said. “Thank you to all my friends for your concern, caring and giving consolation to my family during this time. And thanks to the Wenzhou police, who have taken care of me during this time.”

The lawyer Zhang Kai. China Aid
Officials had announced criminal charges against Mr. Zhang earlier, and it was unclear whether he had been released on bail pending a trial. He and his family members could not be reached for comment, but China Aid, a Christian rights group based in the United States, said that it had confirmed his release with his relatives.

Mr. Zhang was detained Aug. 25 in Wenzhou, a commercial city in Zhejiang Province with a strong Christian influence where officials have been waging a campaign to make churches remove their crosses. That push has been going on for two years across Zhejiang, where President Xi Jinping was once the Communist Party chief. More than 1,200 crosses have been removed from churches and other buildings.

The authorities have also detained religious leaders and pressed criminal charges against them. Last month, a pastor, Bao Guohua, and his wife, Xing Wenxiang, were sentenced to 14 years in prison and 12 years in prison after they were convicted of corruption, financial crimes and gathering people to disturb social order.

Mr. Zhang was advising a Wenzhou church when he was detained. The police issued an order to place him under secret detention for up to six months, a colleague of Mr. Zhang’s, Yang Xingquan, said in an interview at the time. That procedure, called “residential surveillance in an undisclosed location,” has been used liberally by the Chinese police under the rule of Mr. Xi, who is overseeing a widespread clampdown on dissent in China and a dismantling of civil society.

Mr. Zhang had made an appointment last August to meet with an American State Department official to discuss religious freedom in China but was not able to attend the meeting because of his detention. The authorities charged him with endangering state security and assembling a crowd to disrupt social stability.

Last month, Mr. Zhang appeared in a locally televised video in which he said he had worked with foreign groups to stir up trouble over religion. He said he had received payment from China Aid each time he had tried to defend a church or Christian group. He said the group was trying to “change China’s political system.”

Bob Fu, China Aid’s director, denounced what he called the Communist Party’s propaganda efforts after the video was made public. On Wednesday, China Aid said in a written statement that Mr. Zhang had legally defended about 100 churches affected by the cross-removal campaign.

Mr. Fu said of Mr. Zhang’s release: “As a close friend of Zhang Kai, I am very pleased to hear this good news, although further details about the conditions of his release are still unknown.”

The Communist Party has been cracking down on human rights lawyers in China since July. As of November, more than 300 had been detained or interrogated. Most were released by December, but some are still in detention and awaiting trial on criminal charges.

The party has also been restricting the work of foreign nongovernmental organizations, and it is discussing a law that would limit their activities and bring them under the control of the Public Security Ministry. Peter Dahlin, the Swedish director of a Hong Kong-registered nongovernmental organization that worked with Chinese lawyers, was detained for 23 days in January by the Ministry of State Security and then deported from China. Like Mr. Zhang, he appeared in a televised confession, in which he apologized for “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.”

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985