South China Morning Post: Rights lawyer says he was forced to smear fellow activists caught in China crackdown

South China Morning Post
By Mimi Lau

Published : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 12:04am
Updated : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 9:59am

■ Zhang Kai, a Christian, says he was pressured into making critical comments during a televised interview

A Christian lawyer is retracting criticisms he made of other rights activists targeted in the “709” crackdown, saying he made the comments against his will.

Christian and rights lawyer Zhang Kai, 36, has confirmed that he wrote a notice released online yesterday.

It essentially overturned an interview given on the evening of August 4 about the trial of lawyer Zhou Shifeng, who sits at the centre of a campaign that saw more than 319 lawyers and activists arrested in an unprecedented crackdown that began last July.

The statement was also posted on Zhang’s Weibo account, but the account was deleted by authorities yesterday afternoon. Zhang refused to comment beyond what is in his statement.

Zhang was detained last August for representing about 100 churches, whose crosses were demolished by government officials in Zhejiang province.

Lawyer Zhang Kai retracted his earlier criticisms of detained
activists in a statement on Tuesday. Photo: SCMP Pictures

He was subsequently seen in a state television confession in February urging other human-rights lawyers to refrain from colluding with foreigners.

In March, Zhang was released, and was then seen after the trial of Zhou on August 4, in which Zhou was charged with subversion and sentenced to seven years in prison.

“With a Christian faith and a free conscience, I am officially stating that the interview with a number of media, including Phoenix Television, over the trial of Zhou Shifeng was against my own will,” Zhang’s statement read.

“It was a forced act out of fear and I’m retracting all of my comments,” it added.

During the interview earlier this month, Zhang said that from the perspective of a lawyer, the court in Tianjin had handled Zhou’s case fairly.

“I personally think they might have gone too far,” Zhang said during the interview, referring to activists Zhai Yanmin, Hu Shigen and Zhou, who were among the first three detainees to go on trial over the crackdown.

Zhou Shifeng at his trial in Tianjin on August 4, where he was
given a seven-year sentence. Photo: CCTV

“An individual’s belief and political advocacy should remain consistent to the background of our era and historical circumstances,” Zhang said in the interview, adding that “we should refrain from harming national security and unity with overseas funding”.

Zhang’s statement yesterday said such comments were forced out of him.

“My elderly parents were living in fear and worry during the six months of detention in which I was held in darkness. [I was] powerless to resist the pressure imposed by a strong regime,” Zhang wrote.

“I am willing to confess to God for [my] weakness and fear in my heart and spirit and I ask the forgiveness of other family members of 709 [victims],” he added.

Currently, 17 people who were detained as part of the 709 crackdown are waiting for their trials.

Xie Yang, a detained lawyer, has complained to his lawyer that he was subjected to torture while behind bars.

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