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Crosses again begin to tumble in Zhejiang

HONG KONG (UCAN): Be it a fresh campaign to remove crosses from Church buildings in Zhejiang or just catch up demolition on the backlog of jobs that were not completed last year, between January 1 and February 2 this year, 18 more Church buildings in the province were stripped of their crosses by government authorities, with 13 of them in the last week of January.

Christians in the area say it is not clear whether the government campaign has grown fresh legs or just dragged tired ones and simply failed to complete the inventory of jobs set for last year.

After removing more than 1,500 crosses from Protestant and Catholic churches in Zhejiang since the end of 2013, the campaign appeared to have slowed down by September, when the government introduced its five entries and transformations campaign in an attempt to control the content of what is being talked about in Church communities.

The government has even planted its own officials in communities to stop people from talking about the cross-removal campaign during Mass and other services.

Reverend Joseph Gu Yuese, the former chief pastor at the Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, which is registered with the Three-Self Movement and is the biggest community in Zhejiang province, was dismissed from his position in late January after speaking out against the campaign in July last year.

The United States of America (US)-based China Aid reported he is being held in a secret facility, commonly known as a black jail.

Reverend Gu, who is popularly known as Pastor Joseph Gu, is now under investigation for embezzlement, the state-backed Christian Council of Zhejiang announced in a statement on January 29.

“His arrest marks a major escalation in the crackdown against those who oppose the forced demolition of crosses,” China Aid president, Bob Fu, said. “He will be the highest-ranking national Church leader arrested since the Cultural Revolution.”

While this is not particularly accurate, as at least three bishops have remained in custody since the 1990s and early 2000s, Fu’s statement stresses the change in attitude of government towards the Christian Churches.

Zhang Kai, who is the most prominent Christian lawyer to have supported Church communities in defending themselves against the cross removal campaign, which has dragged on for over a year-and-a-half, is also presumed to be held in a black jail and is reported to have dismissed his lawyer under pressure from security officials.

A handwritten letter dated January 27 was sent to Zhang’s lawyer, Zhang Chenshou, in an envelope carrying the official mark of the Municipal Public Security Bureau of Wenzhou, which suggests the note was signed by Zhang under duress.

Forced dismissal of lawyers and denying access to a defence lawyer is illegal in China, but remains a common tactic of the authorities, particularly in cases involving religious or ethnic minorities.

“Thank you for being my lawyer. Because I am now cooperating in the investigation, I don’t need a lawyer for now. I will consider (you) when I need (your services),” the letter reads.

 

Zhang was detained by the authorities in late August as he was preparing to give evidence on the cross-removal campaign to David Saperstein, the US ambassador-at-large-for religious freedom.

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