■ Chairs Welcome Developments in Case of Lawyer Zhang Kai, Urge President Xi To Ease Restrictions on Religious Groups
Congressional-Executive Commission on China
March 24, 2016
(Washington DC)—Representative Chris Smith and Senator Marco Rubio, the Chair and Cochair respectively of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), today welcomed reports of the release of lawyer Zhang Kai whom Chinese authorities detained in August 2015 for his efforts to protect religious leaders and communities in Wenzhou, yet cautioned that the terms of his release are not fully known. The Chairs also called on President Xi Jinping, on the eve of Easter celebrations observed by millions of Chinese Christians, to end the campaign of cross removals and church demolitions in Zhejiang province, and to respect religious freedom more broadly.
“Religious freedom conditions in China, already among the world’s worst, have deteriorated in recent years, as the government has ratcheted up efforts to further manage and control China’s diverse religious communities, including by detaining lawyers like Zhang Kai and others who seek to protect vulnerable religious communities. We welcome the release granted Zhang Kai, but remain gravely concerned by the ongoing and heavy-handed efforts to destroy property and arrest religious leaders in Zhejiang province,” said Chris Smith, CECC Chair. “Furthermore, I am alarmed that Chinese officials have aggressively promoted plans to ‘Sinicize religion’ to ensure that all religious activity advances the Communist Party’s agenda. Neither social stability nor government legitimacy is ensured when the freedom of religion is restricted, as is indicated by a growing body of academic research. In China’s case, expanded restrictions and efforts to control religious practice will only further alienate China’s fast-growing religious communities and remind even non-believers of the Communist Party’s arbitrary power. We urge President Xi Jinping to reconsider his government’s counterproductive approach to China’s religious groups during the long-planned National Work Conference on Religion. And, during this Easter season, to permanently end the cross demolition and church destruction campaign in Zhejiang province. After years of persecution, allow the Christian communities to celebrate without fear.”
“On nearly every possible front, human rights are under assault in China, and religious freedom is no exception. Zhejiang province is ground zero for this crackdown. Increasingly we see stories of pastors in both the unregistered and now registered churches being rounded up, detained, and accused of serious crimes, including Pastor Gu Yuese, Pastor Zhang Chongzhu, and Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife Xing Wenxiang. We continue to see crosses forcibly removed and churches demolished. These draconian abuses of religious freedom are indefensible and must be addressed in advance of Zhejiang’s hosting of the G20 Summit this September in Hangzhou,” said Senator Rubio, CECC cochair. “I am encouraged by reports indicating that Zhang Kai has been released on ‘bail,’ however Chinese authorities still have much to answer for in terms of his treatment while in custody, including his highly suspect televised ‘confession,’ which is a violation of Chinese law. Zhang Kai is a courageous, young rights lawyer who has boldly provided legal counsel to over 100 Wenzhou churches, defending them in the face of an official demolition and cross removal campaign. His case is emblematic of the authorities’ utter disregard for religious freedom and rule of law. While I am heartened that he will at least be able to celebrate Easter with family members, I remain deeply concerned about the terms of his release. Wenzhou authorities must cease any further legal proceedings against him, so that he can return to his family, his church, and his work.”
Looking beyond Zhejiang, the chairs also noted with great concern two cases in Guizhou province involvingPastor Li Guozhi (a.k.a. Yang Hua) of the Living Stone Church in Guiyang and Ms. Zhang Xiuhong, the church’s accountant. On December 9, 2015, the Guiyang civil affairs bureau and the Nanming religious affairs bureau issued notices that declared Living Stone Church an “illegal social group,” and banned it. There may be additional Living Stone church members in detention as well.
Information on religious freedom conditions in China and the cross removal campaign in Zhejiang Province can be found in the Commission’s 2015 Annual Report chapter on Freedom of Religion.
The CECC held a hearing entitled “Religion with ‘Chinese Characteristics’: Persecution and Control in Xi Jinping’s China.” Chair and witness statements, and the archive video of the hearing, can be found here.
The CECC featured Zhang Kai’s case as part of its “Free China’s Heroes” initiative in September 2015 which highlighted on social media representative cases of individuals imprisoned, detained, or disappeared in China and urged that these cases be raised during the state visit to Washington, DC, of Chinese President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping that same month.