CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 June 2019

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Two lawyers detained after challenging cross removals

Hong Kong (UCAN): Police in the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province detained a lawyer, Zhang Kai, together with his intern assistant, Liu Peng, on August 25, after he issued a legal challenge against the Zhejiang authorities amidst a campaign that has seen more than 1,200 crosses removed from Church buildings since the end of 2013.

Police also seized copies of the Church agreements, case files and his computer, a Wenzhou-based Christian using a private online chat room reported.

More than 100 Protestant Churches have sought pro bono legal advice from Zhang in recent weeks in a bid to protect their crosses, a sign of growing resistance to the government campaign among Christians.

The Xinqiao Law Firm in Beijing, which employs Zhang and Liu, issued a statement protesting against their arrests and demanding their immediate release.

“He has fulfilled all the requirements to take over the cases. Liu, an intern lawyer, also has valid legal accreditation to practice,” it said.

Zhang had left Beijing to work on the cross-removal cases full time in Wenzhou and last month started a new group called Lawyers for the Protection of the Cross.

“We can imagine that police have lost control of their emotions, because Churches are now using the law to defend their rights,” Luke, a Protestant pastor in Wenzhou who gave only his Christian name, said.

A dozen pastors were also summoned or detained by police over the past two days, including Wei Wenhai, from Tengqiao Church, who recently publicised his mobile phone number so journalists could report on Christian persecution.

Only one of them has been freed so far. Wei’s mobile could not be contacted on August 27.

In a bold statement issued in July, Zhang promised legal action against the authorities in Huzhou, northern Zhejiang, after they issued a notice to remove the cross of a local church.

“We will sue the procuratorate on behalf of the Christians in the village,” he said.

In another case, Zhang deemed the cross at the Lingnei Church to have been stolen, because the authorities had not produced any legal justification for its removal in July. 

The church then hired Zhang and replaced its cross in defiance of authorities.

“Zhang Kai’s case is incredibly important, because it represents the intersection of China’s unprecedented campaign against human rights lawyers and the ongoing campaign against Christianity and other unauthorised forms of religious expression,” William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty International, commented.

July saw the detention of more than 270 lawyers and their families in an unprecedented crackdown across China.

Or Yan-yan, from the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong, noted that more than a dozen people are still in custody with no word on how they are being treated.

 

“Although mass arrests of lawyers has calmed down, the whole thing has not ended,” she said.

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