Date: March 26, 2016
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Prominent Chinese rights lawyer Zhang Kai, who was detained last year after defending some 100 churches affected by an ongoing cross demolition campaign in China, has been released and can celebrate Easter with his family, BosNewsLife learned.
"I have already safely arrived home in Inner Mongolia," Zhang said after spending 7 months in police custody. "I am thankful for all friends who were concerned about me during this time and who looked after and comforted my family members," he added in comments translated by advocacy group China Aid.
Zhang was detained on August 25, 2015, as he planned to meet U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, to discuss the cross demolitions which happen especially in China’s coastal Zhejiang province, Christians said. He was eventually sentenced to six months under residential surveillance at an undisclosed location, known as a “black jail”, his supporters explained.
On February 25, Zhang reportedly appeared on state television where Christians believe he was "coerced" to confess his “crimes.” Zhejiang authorities subsequently charged him with “endangering state secrets” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public” and "criminally detained" him, said China Aid.
"As a close friend of Zhang Kai, I am very pleased to hear this good news [about his release] although further details about the conditions of his release are still unknown," said Bob Fu, a former Chinese house church pastor and current director of China Aid. "Zhang Kai is a bold human rights lawyer and a defender of the rule of law and religious freedom, and is completely innocent," he added in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.
"I appeal to Chinese authorities to release other arbitrarily imprisoned religious leaders, human rights lawyers and defenders, such as those arrested in July of 2015, including, attorneys Li Heping and Wang Yu, church leader Hu Shigen, and pastors Li Guozhi (Yang Hua), Bao Guohua and Gu Yuese."
Yet news of Zhang's release was overshadowed by reports that four more crosses were removed from atop various churches in the city of Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, seen as "Jerusalem of the east" due to its number of thriving churches.
China Aid said the number of crosses destroyed in Zhejiang as a result of the campaign launched in 2013 has now reached some 2,000 with 49 of them having been removed in the province since the beginning of this year alone.
To prevent congregants from halting the demolition process, government officials have opted to wait until the churches are vacated at night to dismantle the crosses, Christians said.
WATER CUT OFF
Churches protesting against the cross removals have had their water and electricity cut off, forcing services to be held elsewhere as the buildings are deemed unusable, according to several rights activists.
Despite government notices and orders being plastered on church doors, believers have reportedly taken risks in their efforts to stop the advance of demolition crews. "Church leaders and others opposing the campaign have been taken into custody, some never to be heard from again," added Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), another advocacy group supporting reportedly persecuted Christians.
The campaign has been linked to concerns within China's Communist leadership about the spread of Christianity in the country. Last year, China's top anti-corruption body warned Communist Party members – the elite of the nation – that they must refrain from religious activities.
Though official figures are not available, it is believed that the number of Chinese Christians is at least up to 100 million, with some officials suggesting the number may be as high as 130 million with Christianity growing rapidly.
In that speed, Chinese Christians may number 245 million by the year 2030, according to some estimates, making China the largest Christian nation in the world.