Sat, Aug 29, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Lawyer for Chinese churches goes missing

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:Zhang Kai, who has been helping Christian churches in Wenzhou oppose a government program to demolish church crosses, was last seen on Tuesday

NY Times News Service, HONG KONG

A lawyer who represented Christian churches whose crosses were torn down by the Chinese government has disappeared, probably into police custody, a colleague and supporters said yesterday.

The lawyer, Zhang Kai (張凱), is based in Beijing. He went missing on Tuesday night in Wenzhou, a coastal city in eastern China where Christians have opposed a government program to demolish church crosses, Yang Xingquan (楊興權) — a colleague of Zhang’s at the Xinqiao law firm in Beijing — said in a telephone interview.

“We’ve heard no official information about his whereabouts,” Yang said. “He was in Wenzhou when he disappeared on the 25th, but since then we’ve heard nothing from him or about him.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Yang urged the government in Wenzhou to release Zhang and his assistant, Liu Peng (劉鵬), who is also missing.

Police officers in Lucheng District, Wenzhou, where the two men were last seen, either refused to say anything or said they did not know anything when called.

Zhang appeared to be the latest lawyer detained in a widespread campaign to silence lawyers who take on causes anathema to the Chinese Communist Party, said Patrick Poon, who monitors developments in China for Amnesty International.

Zhang’s cellphone was off.

“His detention is another example of the recent crackdown on lawyers and Christians,” Poon said. “Again, it gives a chilling effect on lawyers that they are risking their freedom if they get involved in cases targeted by the government.”

Since last month, Chinese authorities have detained hundreds of lawyers and activists who have sought to expand citizens’ rights by taking on politically contentious cases involving abuses of police power, restrictions on expression and restrictions on religion.

Amnesty International estimated this month that more than 230 had been detained and at least 26 were still being held by the police.

Zhang and Liu were in Wenzhou advising Protestant churches about the demolitions when they appeared to be detained on Tuesday night, said Radio Free Asia, which first reported Zhang’s disappearance.

Several pastors and preachers in Wenzhou were detained by police on Wednesday, the report said.

Wenzhou has become a battleground over the rights of Chinese Christians. The city is a commercial center in Zhejiang Province, and churches there have grown larger, helped by donations from prosperous members.

Yet since April, the government has sought to diminish the prominence of the churches by tearing crosses from their roofs and sometimes demolishing entire churches, saying that they breached building rules. An internal provincial government document indicated that the demolition has been aimed at Christian churches.

The destruction has angered Christians and rights advocates, and even members of China’s state-sponsored churches, usually reluctant to openly dissent, have criticized the demolition.

“Seeking justice, promoting reconciliation and advancing rule of law are a historic mission, called for by God, that Christian lawyers must answer and cannot shirk,” Zhang wrote on his blog in April. “Confronted with cases of oppression of Christian belief, more Christian lawyers are willing to withstand the pressure and walk alongside those who suffer.”

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