China: Rights lawyer says he was forced to smear fellow activists caught in China crackdown — “I was forced against my own will”

Zhang Kai, a Christian, says he was pressured into making critical comments during a televised interview

By Mimi Lau
South China Morning Post

UPDATED : Wednesday, August 31, 2016, 3:04 a.m.
Zhang Kai among 270 human rights lawyers and activists detained or arrested.
Zhang Kai (center), a Christian, helps carry a wooden cross at Xialing Church, hours before his arrest. Courtesy of AsiaNews


A Christian lawyer is retracting criticisms he made of other rights activists targeted in the “709” crackdown, saying he made the comments against his will.

Christian and rights lawyer Zhang Kai, 36, has confirmed that he wrote a notice released online yesterday.

A crane winching a large red cross from one Guantou’s three domes

A crane winches a large red cross from one of three domes on the Guantou church in Wenzhou, China

It essentially overturned an interview given on the evening of August 4 about the trial of lawyer Zhou Shifeng, who sits at the centre of a campaign that saw more than 319 lawyers and activists arrested in an unprecedented crackdown that began last July.

The statement was also posted on Zhang’s Weibo account, but the account was deleted by authorities yesterday afternoon. Zhang refused to comment beyond what is in his statement.

Zhang was detained last August for representing about 100 churches, whose crosses were demolished by government officials in Zhejiang province.

He was subsequently seen in a state television confession in February urging other human-rights lawyers to refrain from colluding with foreigners.

In March, Zhang was released, and was then seen after the trial of Zhou on August 4, in which Zhou was charged with subversion and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Zhang Kai

“With a Christian faith and a free conscience, I am officially stating that the interview with a number of media, including Phoenix Television, over the trial of Zhou Shifeng was against my own will,” Zhang’s statement read.

“It was a forced act out of fear and I’m retracting all of my comments,” it added.

During the interview earlier this month, Zhang said that from the perspective of a lawyer, the court in Tianjin had handled Zhou’s case fairly.

“I personally think they might have gone too far,” Zhang said during the interview, referring to activists Zhai Yanmin, Hu Shigen and Zhou, who were among the first three detainees to go on trial over the crackdown.

“An individual’s belief and political advocacy should remain consistent to the background of our era and historical circumstances,” Zhang said in the interview, adding that “we should refrain from harming national security and unity with overseas funding”.

Zhang’s statement yesterday said such comments were forced out of him.

“My elderly parents were living in fear and worry during the six months of detention in which I was held in darkness. [I was] powerless to resist the pressure imposed by a strong regime,” Zhang wrote.

“I am willing to confess to God for [my] weakness and fear in my heart and spirit and I ask the forgiveness of other family members of 709 [victims],” he added.

Currently, 17 people who were detained as part of the 709 crackdown are waiting for their trials.

Xie Yang, a detained lawyer, has complained to his lawyer that he was subjected to torture while behind bars.


Below from September 2015

China has arrested the leader of “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross.” The group defends churches whose crosses have been forcibly removed amid a government campaign to strip skylines of Christian symbols.

Zhang Kai is the latest of more than 250 attorneys, pastors, and human rights activists detained or arrested since July in connection with the 400 to 1,200 cross removals in the eastern province of Zhejiang, a Christian stronghold.

On August 25, police in Wenzhou, a coastal city known as “China’s Jerusalem,” jumped a wall at Xialing Church and arrested Zhang Kai and his intern, Liu Peng. The arrests occurred on the eve of a scheduled meeting with David Saperstein, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

“These detentions fit into the disturbing pattern of state intimidation of public-interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, [and] religious leaders,” Saperstein said to news media. “Other people that I have met, or tried to, have suffered harassment of some kind. [The US government] demands the immediate release of these activists, who boldly underline the precariousness of religious life in China.”

According to China Aid, Zhang and Liu are being held for six months in a so-called “black jail,” one of several detention facilities outside the established penal system. Torture is common in such centers, where prisoners may be held without trial, China Aid said.

Lawyers representing Zhang and Liu requested to meet with them, but authorities denied that request. Sources told the attorneys that Zhang and Liu have been charged with endangering state security and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order.”

In July, Zhang assembled a team of 30 lawyers, mostly Chinese Christians, to represent pastors and churches in Zhejiang province. Their name: “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross.”

Zhang took up residence at Xialing Church in Wenzhou, meeting with dozens of Christian leaders whose churches were subject to the cross removal or demolition orders.

For months, Zhang and his team pursued an aggressive legal strategy, challenging state actions at every possible point. “He did not let a single legal question lapse,” said Zhang Peihong, a lawyer who worked with Zhang, according to

At one point, a female state security agent told him, “You’re just looking for trouble” by defending churches. “You’re wrong,” he replied. “I have God as my backer.”

On August 8, Zhang shared his stance on WeChat, an Asian social media site with 500 million monthly users: “I’ve made up my mind: the most they can do is jail me. But if I stay silent, I’ll regret it my whole life.” Two weeks later, plainclothes police arrested him.

Zhang’s arrest comes just before China’s Premier Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the United States in late September. Human rights activists have launched a public petition calling on the Obama administration to cancel Xi’s visit.

“[Zhang] did nothing but legally defend hundreds of churches’ crosses from being barbarically demolished by the Zhejiang government,” said Bob Fu, founder and president of China Aid. “Free world leaders, especially President Obama, should make it clear to President Xi Jinping that these acts of total disregard for basic human rights and religious freedom should and will be condemned by all during Xi’s visit to the United Nations and the United States next month.”

This week, a group of human rights leaders in Asia called for the immediate and unconditional release of those arrested since July. “We strongly encourage … the government to ensure that … those who are facing charges are allowed legal representation and that their rights are protected in accordance with the law; to ensure that no individual is detained incommunicado or held at an extra-legal facility,” the Saakshi Project stated. Christian Solidarity Worldwide also called for the immediate release of Zhang and others from detention.

In recent months, CT has covered the cross-demolition campaign and the counter-campaign by local Christians to return crosses to public display.

In 2006, CT published China’s New Legal Eagles, a feature about evangelical lawyers in that country. It has also covered the case of renowned Christian attorney Gao Zhisheng, who was released last year after serving prison time for “inciting subversion of state power.”


Decapitated Churches in China’s Christian Heartland


Cross is shown on a church in Zhejiang province, July 27, 2015.

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