Beijing-based rights lawyer Zhang Kai is being held by Zhejiang authorities on suspicion of spying and disturbing public order after offering advice to local churches facing cross removals. The detentions of Zhang and others follow July’s “Black Friday” crackdown, in which nearly 300 activists and lawyers including 44-year-old Wang Yu have been questioned or detained. Tom Phillips at The Guardian reports:
Zhang Kai, a Beijing-based attorney, was seized by security officials on 25 August in Wenzhou, a city in the eastern province of Zhejiang sometimes referred to as China’s Jerusalem because of its large Christian population.
Zhang had been in Wenzhou offering legal support to churches battling a controversial Communist party demolition drive that has targeted Christian places of worship since late 2013.
[…] A notice from Wenzhou public security officials that was published on social media said Zhang – whose whereabouts are not known – was being held on suspicion of two crimes.
The first is “gathering and disturbing social order”, while the second, and potentially more serious, charge is “stealing, spying, buying and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to entities outside of China”. [Source]
Zhejiang is the site of a government campaign of cross removals and church demolitions that has been ongoing since 2013. The provincial government insists that the push is simply a matter of planning enforcement—though an official document leaked last year suggests otherwise—and voiced its commitment to combat “rumors” surrounding the demolitions, Global Times reports:
“Authorities’ crackdown on online rumors is just and fair,'” said a commentary on the front page of the Zhejiang Daily on Sunday, referring to the province’s anti-rumor which began in July.
It added that punitive measures on all illegal structures, including religious structures, are within the law and open to public scrutiny, which shows respect for “freedom of speech.”
Several alleged rumormongers in the cities of Wenzhou and Taizhou in Zhejiang have been punished for spreading false information, provoking trouble and deliberately distorting the facts about the “three revise and one demolition” campaign.
Some Christians were among them, along with “self-righteous” media and overseas websites that deliberately “twisted” the facts, in an attempt to spare illegal religious structures, according to the commentary. [Source]
Meanwhile, Reuters’ Michael Martina reports that Chinese authorities have released Peter Hahn, a Korean-American Christian aid worker arrested in 2014 over his non-profit work near China’s border with North Korea:
Supporters of Korean-American missionary Peter Hahn had said authorities targeted him because of his Christian faith and because of the small vocational school he ran.
His release comes ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the United States in late September, during which a draft Chinese law governing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is expected to be a point of contention.
Hahn’s lawyer, Zhang Peihong, said his client, who has diabetes and has suffered strokes, was in stable heath and recovering in the South Korean capital, Seoul, after Chinese authorities released him on Aug. 17.
“It’s not that he has been freed (early). He was sentenced to nine months and those nine months have been served,” Zhang said.
Zhang told Reuters in July that authorities had dropped three of the four charges against Hahn, 74, probably for lack of evidence, leaving only the least serious charge of counterfeiting receipts. [Source]