Radio Free Asia: China Holds Rights Lawyer on Spying Charges Amid Growing Calls For His Release

Radio Free Asia


Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang are holding a top Beijing rights lawyer who was advising local Christians in their bid to resist the demolition of crosses on spying charges, according to a police notice seen by RFA.

“Under Clause 73 of the Criminal Code, this department is placing Zhang Kai … under residential surveillance,” according to an Aug. 27 notice sent by the Wenzhou municipal police department to his family.

Zhang is being held “on suspicion of gathering a crowd to disrupt public order, spying and illegally gathering, buying and supplying state secrets overseas,” the notice said.

Zhang Kai had recently been based in Zhejiang’s coastal city of Wenzhou, known as “China’s Jerusalem,” to offer pro bono advice to more than 100 Protestant churches facing the removal of their crosses and the detention of pastors, lay preachers, and church members.

He was taken away by state security police alongside two legal assistants on Aug. 25, sources told RFA at the time.

Zhang’s attorney Li Guisheng said a request he submitted earlier in the week for a meeting with his client had been denied on Wednesday, on the grounds that the investigation is still ongoing.

Lawyer Zhang Kai (C) is shown with two assistants in
Wenzhou, Aug. 25, 2015.  Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Li said there is an official time limit of six months on “residential surveillance,” during which time the authorities needn’t inform relatives of where a suspect is being held, if state security charges are involved.

“Six months is the longest they can do this … but they don’t need to hold him at a fixed address,” Li said. “They can put him in a detention center.”

US demands release

The confirmation of the charges against Zhang comes after the United States demanded on Tuesday that China release him, ahead of a state visit this month to the U.S. by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador at-large for religious freedom, said the detention of Zhang Kai and the others was a “particularly alarming development” because it occurred while he was in China preparing to meet the group the next day.

He said other religious figures with whom he met had also been detained or harassed, in spite of an invitation from Beijing that he form his own opinion about religious freedom in China during his Aug. 20-28 trip there.

“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,” Saperstein said on Tuesday.

He called on authorities to release some 10 detainees, including Zhang, his assistant and several pastors who he said had also been accused of threatening public order and national security.

A close associate of the detained pastors and preachers, Yang Xingquan, said he had seen similar police notices sent to relatives of two people detained at the same time as Zhang.

“Two police notifications that I saw had the exact same charges listed on them as Zhang Kai’s did,” Yang said.

Zhang’s father, who arrived in Wenzhou on Tuesday to try to help his son, said he had been unable to visit him in detention, but had gone to gather up his belongings from the church where he had been staying.

“The brothers and sisters in the church all regard Zhang Kai as their hero,” he said. “He is very highly valued.”

Disobedience campaigns

Churches have waged widespread civil disobedience campaigns in the face of a cross demolition campaign launched by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Zhejiang in recent months which has seen some 250 people detained.

The removal is part of a three-year urbanization and beautification campaign, which orders local governments to “revise” old neighborhoods, old industrial sites and urban villages, and demolish illegal structures by the end of 2015, official media have said.

Zhejiang authorities have said they are merely “relocating” the crosses from the roofs of churches to the interior.

But churchgoers have written open letters, sung hymns to armed security officers, staged sit-ins in churches and on rooftops, and displayed small red-painted wooden crosses across the province in protest at the move.

Churches are also being subjected to audits and financial reviews, with some pastors detained on suspicion of “embezzlement” after they resisted the demolition of crosses.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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