Since 2013, over 1,200 crosses have been removed from Christian churches in Zhejiang province and several houses of worship in the region have been demolished. This summer, the removals and demolitions–which local authorities have repeatedly claimed are for “safety reasons” and part of a regional beautification campaign and not representative of a crackdown on Christianity–were castigated by both the government bodies overseeing Christianity in Zhejiang, and by high-ranking regional clergy, and a series of protests were staged. At The Guardian, Tom Phillips reports that several church activists have now been detained by security forces:
“At least nine people I know have been taken away by the police and that figure is still rising,” a church leader in the eastern province of Zhejiang – the operation’s focus – told the Guardian on Thursday afternoon.
“We think it is a campaign targeting church leaders across the province. It can only be a co-ordinated action initiated by the provincial government.”
[…] On Tuesday a wave of detentions – apparently designed to extinguish any further dissent – began. Plainclothes officers arrived at the homes of their targets with a list containing the names and photographs of local Christians, the church leader said.
“They said people who were taken away would be put under residential surveillance,” the pastor said. “We are all very angry. They didn’t inform people what charges they were being held on and they didn’t produce any documents. There are people outside my house. I know if I go out they might arrest me too.”
[…] The church leader said Zhejiang’s Christians would not be cowed by the police operation. “We are not intimidated by their tactics. We have not done anything wrong or against the law. Our actions are all restrained and reasonable while theirs are shady.” [Source]
Beijing-based lawyer Zhang Kai, who had been in the historically Christian city of Wenzhou, Zhejiang, appears to be among those detained. The Associated Press reports:
Yang Xingquan, a colleague of Zhang Kai, said on Thursday there has been no word on Zhang, who provided legal counsel for churches in Zhejiang in their resistance to the government order.
[…] Yang said Zhang and his assistant were taken away on Tuesday night from a church in Wenzhou city, which is known as the Jerusalem of the East because of its many churches.
Calls to Wenzhou police were hung up upon the mention of the lawyer. [Source]
At The New York Times, Chris Buckley notes that Zhang’s assistant Liu Peng is also missing, and situates their possible detention into the recent crackdown on rights lawyers and activists that netted over 300 last month, several of whom remain in detention:
Mr. Zhang appeared to be the latest lawyer detained in a widespread campaign to silence lawyers who take on causes anathema to the Communist Party, said Patrick Poon, who monitors developments in China for Amnesty International. Mr. Zhang’s cellphone was off.
[…] Since July, the Chinese authorities have detained hundreds of lawyers and activists who have sought to expand citizens’ rights by taking on politically contentious cases involving abuses of police power, restrictions on expression and restrictions on religion. Amnesty International estimated this month that more than 230 had been detained and at least 26 were still being held by the police.
Mr. Zhang and Mr. Liu were in Wenzhou advising Protestant churches about the demolitions when they appeared to be detained on Tuesday night, said Radio Free Asia, which first reported Mr. Zhang’s disappearance. Several pastors and preachers in Wenzhou were detained by the police on Wednesday, according to the report. [Source]