Leading Lawyer Defending Crosses In ‘China’s Jerusalem’ Jailed

China has arrested the leader of “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross.” The group defends churches whose crosses have been forcibly removed amid a government campaign to strip skylines of Christian symbols. Zhang Kai (Centre in Dark Shirt) is the latest of more than 250 attorneys, pastors, and human rights activists detained or arrested since July in connection with the 400 to 1,200 cross removals in the eastern province of Zhejiang, a Christian stronghold. On August 25, police in Wenzhou, a coastal city known as “China’s Jerusalem,” jumped a wall at Xialing Church and arrested Zhang Kai and his intern, Liu Peng. The arrests occurred on the eve of a scheduled meeting with David Saperstein, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. According to China Aid, Zhang and Liu are being held for six months in a so-called “black jail,” one of several detention facilities outside the established penal system. Torture is common in such centers, where prisoners may be held without trial. Lawyers representing Zhang and Liu requested to meet with them, but authorities denied that request. Sources told the attorneys that Zhang and Liu have been charged with endangering state security and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order.”

the_Wenzhou_CityIn July, Zhang assembled a team of 30 lawyers, mostly Chinese Christians, to represent pastors and churches in Zhejiang province. Zhang took up residence at Xialing Church in Wenzhou, meeting with dozens of Christian leaders whose churches were subject to the cross removal or demolition orders. For months, Zhang and his team pursued an aggressive legal strategy, challenging state actions at every possible point. At one point, a female state security agent told him, “You’re just looking for trouble” by defending churches. “You’re wrong,” he replied. “I have God as my backer.” On August 8, Zhang shared his stance on WeChat, an Asian social media site with 500 million monthly users: “I’ve made up my mind: the most they can do is jail me. But if I stay silent, I’ll regret it my whole life.” Two weeks later, plainclothes police arrested him.

Zhang’s arrest comes just before China’s Premier Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the United States in late September. Human rights activists have launched a public petition calling on the Obama administration to cancel Xi’s visit. This week, the Saakshi Project, a group of human rights leaders in Asia called for the immediate and unconditional release of those arrested since July. Christian Solidarity Worldwide also called for the immediate release of Zhang and others from detention.

Timothy Morgan for Christianity Today

3 September 2015

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