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Defender of Church crosses now in limbo

BEIJING (UCAN): The family of Zhang Kai, the lawyer who defended a number of Church communities in Zhejiang against the demolition of the crosses from their churches and was paraded on state television to confess to his crimes, says that his future is still up in the air.

As hopes that he would be released by the authorities in Wenzhou were fading, he appeared without any notice in a self-criticism session on state television to confess his crimes on February 25.

Zhang said that he was to be criminally detained on the day following his admission that he felt extremely remorseful.

“It is not clear what is going to happen to him next,” Zhang’s parents said in a statement posted on Chinese social media on February 28. “We believe Zhang Kai is innocent and we hope the government can respect his rights that the law has guaranteed.”

Zhang’s case has caused an outcry from rights groups, Christians and western governments, including the United States of America (US) secretary of state, John Kerry, who has urged Beijing to free Zhang immediately.

Bob Fu, the director of the US-based China Aid, who was part of a deal that saw blind lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, leave China in 2012 following his daring escape from house arrest, was among those who expressed hope Zhang was about to be released after his video confession.

According to Chinese law, detainees can be held for six months without charge and must then be released or criminally detained pending official charges.

“People used legal means to fight for their rights, but they received criminal charges in return,” Or Yan-yan, the project officer at the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong, said. “This crackdown is on the whole of civil society, not just on Zhang Kai or other human rights lawyers.”

It is understood that Wenzhou’s Public Security Bureau has told Zhang he might be freed in one month’s time, but could still face unspecified charges if he does not cooperate with authorities.

Police in Wenzhou told Zhang in September that he was suspected of “gathering a mob to disturb public order and stealing, collecting, purchasing and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to overseas organisations”—accusations which were replayed on television in his video confession.

Zhang, a lawyer at the Beijing-based Xinqiao chambers, helped Church communities in Zhejiang use China’s own laws to rebuff authorities amid a campaign that has seen more than 1,700 crosses removed from Church structures in the province since the end of 2013.

Immediately following his detention in late August, authorities barred Zhang from seeing his lawyer and then in early December issued a notice purportedly handwritten and signed by Zhang in which he dismissed his defence lawyer.

Chinese law states that detainees are guaranteed access to a lawyer, but in practice this right has increasingly been denied, despite a campaign being drummed up by the president, Xi Jinping, to strengthen the rule of law.

 

Zhang’s case follows a string of recent televised confessions in China by detained rights defenders amid a crackdown on lawyers and their families in which more than 200 people have been detained since July.

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