The family of Christian human rights lawyer Zhang Kai received a notice Friday (Sept. 4) stating Zhang has been placed under secretive detention and accused of “stealing, secretly collecting, purchasing, or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to an organization, institution, or personnel outside the country,” as well as organizing a crowd to disturb social order.
The United States is demanding his release. Zhang Kai represented churches whose crosses the government tore down in a crackdown on Christianity. He was detained Aug. 25 and faces up to six months of secretive detention under accusations of endangering state security and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order,” according to his colleagues. China Aid notes that these detentions often include torture.
Bob Fu of China Aid noted that Zhang could face more than 10 years in prison, making him the “the first human rights lawyer in China [to receive] the longest criminal sentence since China restored its lawyer system in 1980s for defending religious freedom.”
About 10 other pastors have also been detained and accused of threatening public order and national security.
Saperstein called for the release of the detainees, saying the actions were “outrageous,” especially since Chinese authorities had encouraged his visit to examine religious freedom in the China: “In that context, there can be no excuse for the detention of these religious figures who either met with me or tried to meet with me.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit to the United States later this month. Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said human rights would be “a key core issue” during the visit ahead of the UN General Assembly.
Last year, Zhang represented Wenzhou pastor Huang Yizi after Huang protested the violent cross removal in Wenzhou by singing and praying outside a local public security bureau. Huang was sentenced to a year in prison for “gathering crowds to disturb social order.” In an interview, Zhang called the entire trial process “unlawful.”
“Huang went to mobilize these Christians against the demolition. That is something that should be commended because originally the July 21 demolition was an illegal action,” Zhang said in March. “For a person to mobilize people against illegal conduct is appropriate and should be promoted in society rather then being seen as criminal.”
Since then, Zhang has counseled more than 100 churches facing cross removals and represented detained pastors and church members, Radio Free Asia reported. Zhang organized a group of more than 30 Christian lawyers to defend those churches and passed out copies of “Cross Activists Handbook” to inform churches of their rights under the Chinese constitution.
In the past few months, Zhejiang Christians have stepped up their civil disobedience campaigns against the cross removals, donning T-shirts with crosses, marching down the street, and making their own red crosses.
Authorities will not allow Li Guisheng, a lawyer representing Zhang, to meet with his client, as those under “residential confinement” are forbidden from any communication to the outside world.
Two weeks before Zhang was arrested, he posted on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform: “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.”