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 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 crossremovals 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.
“These detentions fit into the disturbing pattern of state intimidation of public-interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, [and] religious leaders,” Saperstein said to news media. “Other people that I have met, or tried to, have suffered harassment of some kind. [The US government] demands the immediate release of these activists, who boldly underline the precariousness of religious life in China.”
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, China Aid said.
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.”
In July, Zhang assembled a team of 30 lawyers, mostly Chinese Christians, to represent pastors and churches in Zhejiang province. Their name: “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross.”