By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
SURREY, ENGLAND (ANS) -- An imprisoned Chinese Protestant pastor has finally been allowed to see his lawyer.
According to a news release from human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the visit by his lawyer to Pastor Zhang Shaojie, 48, occurred on Jan. 15. That was two months after he was first detained without formal documentation on Nov. 16 2013.
Quoting Asia News, CSW said the pastor has been charged with "fraud" and "disturbing public order."
In a social media post, lawyer Liu Weiguo said he and other lawyers had encountered numerous obstacles in trying to meet with Pastor Zhang since his arrest.
Pastor Zhang belongs to the Nanle County Christian Church under the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).
On Nov. 15, several church members were detained "after petitioning a higher authority" about a land dispute involving the church.
On Nov. 16, police forcibly detained Pastor Zhang. His sisters and other church members were also arrested, and several others were also ordered to government offices. In total, over 20 church members were detained.
CSW said according to reports from ChinaAid, nine church members remain incarcerated, and three more are missing after being taken into police custody.
One detainee, Yang Miling, was reportedly beaten while in detention and later tried to commit suicide. Her 17-year-old son was stopped and beaten when he tried to visit his mother in hospital.
There are unconfirmed reports that six of those in detention centers will be sentenced before the Chinese New Year. Lawyers Liu Weiguo and Xia Jun told Asia News that Pastor Zhang's trial will occur soon.
CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in the news release, "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."
He added, "Furthermore, 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. CSW calls on the Chinese authorities to allow all the lawyers full access to their clients."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
For further information, visit www.csw.org.uk.