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Secretary of State John Kerry highlights Zhang Kai's Case

Ambassador Saperstein Answers Questions About Zhang Kai

Human rights lawyer and Christian Zhang Kai was held in police custody on August 25, 2015. Police climbed the walls of Xialing Church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, where Zhang Kai was staying while he legally defended the church against the forced demolition of its cross, and took him into custody. Shortly after his apprehension, he was placed under “residential surveillance in a designated location,” better known as a “black jail”—a place where coercion tactics and torture are all too common.

February 25 marked the authorities’ six-month deadline to take legal action against Zhang Kai after taking him into custody. On February 26, Zhang Kai was criminally detained after a “confession,” which is speculated to have been coerced, aired on state-run television. Zhang Kai is charged with “endangering state security” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.”

Zhang Kai was released on March 23rd and is “out on bail, awaiting trial.” A sincere thank you to all who contributed to this international campaign.


  • Oct. 9, 2014: Xialing Church members thwarted Wenzhou authorities attempt to demolish the church’s cross. Instead, the authorities demolished part of the church’s outer wall, some windows, and a door.

  • July 14, 2015: Despite a widespread crackdown on human rights defenders, legal professionals, and human rights advocates just days before, Zhang Kai announced the formation of the “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross.” The group, led by Zhang, pledged to “fight peacefully, orderly, and legally against the forced removal of crosses throughout China.”

  • Aug. 25, 2015: Wenzhou police climbed the walls of Xialing Church where they detained Zhang Kai and his two assistants, Liu Peng, and Fang Xianrui while the three worked to defend the church. Zhang Kai was scheduled to meet with the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, in Shanghai in a few days’ time.

  • Aug. 31, 2015: It was announced that Zhang Kai would spend six months in “residential surveillance in a designated location,” otherwise known as a “black jail.”

  • Sept. 2, 2015: After being denied meetings with his client, Li Guizheng, a lawyer representing Zhang Kai, received at notice from Wenzhou authorities titled, “Prohibition from Meeting with Suspected Criminals,” which indicated that lawyers were not allowed to meet with Zhang Kai due to his status as a possible enemy of the state.

  • Sept. 3, 2015: Zhang Kai’s family received a notice from the Wenzhou police, stating that Zhang Kai is suspected of “gathering a mob to disturb public order” and “stealing, collecting, purchasing and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to overseas organizations.”

  • Nov. 11, 2015: Wenzhou authorities issued a demolition notice to Xialing Church, informing the church of its impending demolition, scheduled for November 16.

  • Nov. 13, 2015: The Wenzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau released a notice, informing Zhang Lei, one of the lawyers representing Zhang Kai, that the imprisoned rights defender had “temporarily” dismissed Zhang Lei. Lawyer Li Baiguang received the same notice in reference to his client, Zhang Kai’s assistant Liu Peng.

  • Dec. 11, 2015: Zhang Kai’s assistants, Liu Peng and Fang Xianrui, are released after spending four months in a “black jail.”

  • Dec. 28, 2015: Wenzhou authorities removed Xialing Church’s cross.

  • Jan. 27, 2016:, Zhang Chenshou, another lawyer commissioned by Zhang Kai’s family, received a letter from his client, informing him that Zhang Kai was dismissing him because Zhang Kai was “now cooperating in the investigation” and didn’t “need a lawyer for now.” Many suspect that Zhang Kai was pressured to write the letter.

  • Feb. 25, 2016: On the six month anniversary of his detention, a video of Zhang Kai “confessing” to his alleged crimes was published by a Zhejiang television station. It is believed that Zhang Kai was forced to confess.

  • Feb. 26, 2016: Authorities criminally detained Zhang Kai for “endangering state secrets” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” the day after a “confession” aired on state-run television. Typically, detainees are released following televised confessions.

  • March 23, 2016: Authorities release on Zhang Kai on bail. Since his release, he has been summoned multiple times to the police station for interrogation. 
  • Aug. 30, 2016: Zhang Kai recants statements authorities forced him to make about fellow human rights lawyers in an interview following the trial of human rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng on Aug. 4, 2016.

Cross Demolitions

The Chinese government began to demolish churches and remove crosses from atop churches in January 2014. The bulk of persecution against Christian churches has occurred in China’s coastal Zhejiang province with the number of affected churches estimated to be more than 1,800.

ChinaAid gained access to a notice from the Zhejiang provincial government in April 2014, regarding a three-year campaign that would begin in December 2013. The notice stated that the campaign would be “unfolded to improve old residential areas, old factory areas and villages within cities and to demolish all illegal structures.” Thus, the campaign was titled, “Three Rectification and One Demolition.”

However, a document from the Rui’an city government in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, regarding the campaign states that targets for investigation are “illegal structures within legal sites for religious activities, privately established sites for Christian activities and other illegal structures, illegal structures for folk faiths.” Another notice, from a township in Taizhou, Zhejiang, lists religious sites as the target of the campaign.

While officials in almost every case of persecution stated that the demolished structures or crosses were “illegal,” many churches had received government approval for the construction of said structures. To circumvent this issue, the Zhejiang provincial government proposed regulations requiring church crosses to be “completely attached to the front façade of the main religious building” rather than atop the church. Additionally, “the ratio of the length of the cross to the height of the building’s façade must be less than 1:10, and the color must match the façade of the church and the ambient surrounding” rather than maintaining the crosses’ traditional, vibrant red color.

To fully understand the seriousness of such a campaign, one must understand the depth of meaning China’s church crosses possess as well as the implications of the campaign. In China, the large red crosses that top most churches are the only outward symbol identifying the building as a church. Chinese Christians also view the campaign as the first step in a crackdown on religious freedom—a crackdown that will only worsen step-by-step if Christians do not assert their right to religious freedom.