BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- A jailed Chinese pastor has been allowed to meet his lawyer following international pressure, two months after he was detained, rights activists confirmed Thursday, January 16.
Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie of the thriving Nanle County Christian Church in China's central Henan province was charged with "fraud"and "disturbing public order" and could talk with his lawyer, Liu Weiguo on Wednesday, January 15, Christians said.
Zhang was detained by police on November 16 without "without a warrant during a discussion with police at his church", local Christians with close knowledge about the situation told BosNewsLife.
He detention came after several other church members were detained after petitioning authorities about a land dispute involving the church. Zhang’s sisters and as many as 20 church members were also detained, and several others were summoned to government offices.
Nine church members remain in detention and three more are missing after being taken into police custody, according to China Aid Association (CAA), an advocacy group supporting the Christians.
One detainee, Yang Miling, was reportedly beaten while in detention and subsequently attempted to commit suicide. Her 17-year-old son was stopped and beaten when he tried to visit his mother in hospital, Christians said.
Rights activists said six of those detained may be sentenced before the Chinese New Year. Lawyers Liu Weiguo and Xia Jun reportedly said Pastor Zhang’s own trial would take place soon.
Britain-based religious rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said it was closely following procedures.
"We welcome the news that Pastor Zhang’s lawyer has been able to meet with him at last. At the same time, we are extremely concerned that lawyers had to persist for two full months before the meeting was allowed," said Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive.
He told BosNewsLife in a statement that CSW has urged Chinese authorities to allow all attorneys full access to their clients, as "the majority of detainees have not been allowed any visit from their lawyers, and several other church members remain missing after being taken into police custody."
Thomas said he was concerned about reported mistreatment in prison. "We also urge the relevant authorities to urgently review the necessity of their detention and to ensure none of the detainees is subjected to beatings and other violations of their rights in accordance with the National Human Rights Action Plan of China..."
The detentions in Nanle County are remarkable as the congregation is part of the state-sanctioned Protestant 'Three-Self Church' denomination.
Chinese Christians have linked the arrests to the pastor's popularity and his work among communities in the Communist-run nation.
A Chinese Christian with close knowledge about the church, who identifies himself publicly only as Brother John for security reasons, told BosNewsLife that the popular pastor was apparently seen as a threat by Communist authorities.
"Pastor Zhang had been voted to be heading the government sponsored church systems [as he] is respected inside and outside church because of his services in the communities around. However, the local government objected to him," Brother John explained.
Chinese officials have reportedly expressed concerns about the spread of Christianity in the country with some estimates suggesting there may be as many as 130 million Christians in the country of over 1 billion people. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).