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China Detains Christian Attorney, Activist Fighting Harassment of Churches

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Officials seek to silence, neutralize advocates for freedom of religion/speech.

(Morning Star News) A Christian activist writing against harassment of churches in China’s Zhejiang Province was temporarily detained and threatened this month, and an attorney representing some of the fellowships remains missing.

The detentions are the latest signs of a government crackdown on at least 230 human rights lawyers and activists since July.

China’s National Security Bureau on Nov. 3 raided the home of writer Zan Aizong, who had been blogging on violations of religious freedom and the destruction of crosses on church buildings in Zhejiang Province that officials have undertaken since last year, according to the South China Morning Post. Authorities accused Zan of inciting subversion of national security, and they threatened and intimidated him before he was released.

Zan said he was prohibited from speaking or posting online, and his computer and cell phone were confiscated among other items, SCMP reported.

“I would like to thank Jesus Christ for His grace and help,” Zan said, according to advocacy group China Aid Association.

At the same time, a Christian attorney for churches in Zhejiang, Zhang Kai, has not been seen since Aug. 25, according to Elizabeth Kendal of the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB). Chinese security forces seized Zhang in Wenzhou on Aug. 25, along with assistant Liu Peng and several area pastors.

Zhang, 37, had taken up residence in a Wenzhou church building for a year in order to help the legal cases of area fellowships whose church buildings or crosses had been destroyed. Officials cited church violations of zoning rules, while pastors and advocates asserted that the government only sought to diminish the churches’ effectiveness.

Yang Xinquan, Zhang’s employer, told The New York Times that police and Christian sources indicated that Zhang could be held in secretive detention for six months, charged with threatening state security and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order.” Yang said Zhang was advising a church in Wenzhou when police took him away, and that assistant Liu and another legal worker, Fang Xiangui, were also likely being held in secret in Wenzhou, according to the Times.

Zhang is one of an estimated 230 lawyers and activists that have been detained, with 26 still being held, according to Amnesty International. He was first detained in Wenzhou by state security police late at night on July 10, according to Hong Kong-based Initium Media. One of Initium’s correspondents reported Zhang telling him earlier that day, “Christianity teaches us to submit. But what we ought to submit to is the constitution and morality, not to illegal people and conduct.”

Following his release after a night of interrogation, Zhang later told the reporter in an interview that public security officials warned him to stop working on church cases and holding legal seminars

Advocates fear for Zhang’s health and safety. Prominent human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng was released on Aug. 7, 2014, after months of isolation and torture left him physically disabled and unable to speak coherently.

Zhang had represented Pastor Huang Yizi of Salvation Church in Wenzhou. Supporters put up resistance to a government attempt to remove the church’s cross last year that resulted in injuries, and Pastor Huang was ultimately sentenced to jail for “gathering a crowd to disturb social order,” Initium reported.

Identifying and documenting various procedural illegalities in the way the government harassed the Wenzhou churches, Zhang left government officials enraged and legally defeated, according to Initium. Authorities offered to free the then yet to be prosecuted Pastor Huang if Zhang would cease representing him, but when Zhang recused himself, officials reneged and sentenced the pastor to a year in prison, Initium reported.

Zhang organized a group of 30 attorneys from throughout China to take up church cases in Zhejiang Province. He also wrote a number of articles and Web posts.

Initium reported Zhang saying, “Lawyers can’t necessarily prevent the crosses being removed, but at least they can expose the illegal nature of the exercise. Even if they were constructed against regulations, there should be a reasonable and legal process to remove them. Otherwise, where’s the legality?”

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