WENZHOU, China (Christian Examiner) – Even as Chinese President Xi Jinpin begins a four-day visit to great Britian in what the Queen described as a "defining moment" of relations between the two nations -- an official representing the persecuted church worldwide is urging the release of illegally detained Christians.
On the night of Aug. 25, Christian human rights lawyer Zhang Kai was arrested and taken to a secret "black jail" in the city where he had been defending churches whose crosses were being indiscriminately torn down.
Now, Release International is urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to ask Xi Jinping to release Zhang Kai and other illegally detained Christians during the president's visit to Britain this week.
"Right now, one of China's most prominent Christian human rights lawyers is being held illegally in a 'black jail' on possible spying charges and denied any legal representation," said Paul Robinson, the Chief Executive of Release International, in a news release.
"The one question for David Cameron when he meets President Xi Jinping must be: 'If you really care about human rights—when will you release Zhang Kai? Zhang Kai represents what is deeply worrying about China—a nation rounding up its Christian lawyers, and claiming it is doing so to uphold the rule of law."
THE LORD'S EQUITABLE JUSTICE
Zhang Kai was offering legal counsel to churches whose crosses were being torn down across the Wenzhou region in an official effort to persecute Christians.
According to a testimony written by Zhang's father, the Wenzhou police refused to allow Zhang's colleagues or family access to him or even to tell them where he was. "It is shocking, confusing and unbelievable," his father wrote.
The official notice of the arrest delivered to his mother said Zhang Kai was put "under house arrest on 08/27/2015 for gathering a mob to disturb social order [and] for stealing, prying, purchasing, and illegally gathering state secrets or intelligence." Zhang's father maintains that Zhang's goal was to instruct people about their rights under Chinese law rather than work against the law in any way.
"China is jailing and torturing its lawyers, demolishing churches, and driving Christians to worship underground," Robinson said, calling for a frank discussion about human rights. "And let's not forget that lawyers like Zhang Kai, who love their country, and simply want to use the law of the land to contest the legality of church demolitions are being treated like enemies of the state."
Zhang's father, who traveled to Wenzhou in hopes of news of his son, visited the church where Zhang lived and worked and where he was arrested. "Before my eyes, the tattered remnants from after the demolitions were strewn along the steps in front of the main gate and along the sides."
His father remembered Zhang's words about his goals and hopes for justice for the people who were being wrongly treated by the Chinese government.
"I am certain that I want to support the Lord's impartial justice and work in accordance with the law," Zhang said, according to his father. "Dad, be confident; your work cannot violate the law. More and more, I believe the government's actions can be in accordance with the law. I believe that the government can support the Lord's equitable justice."
NEED FOR INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION
In the past two years, thousands of crosses have been reportedly torn down from church buildings, and some buildings themselves have been demolished. Further, dozens of Christian human rights lawyers like Zhang Kai and Gao Zhisheng have been systematically persecuted with arrests, beatings, surveillance, and threats to their families.
Secretary of State John Kerry has publically called for Zhang's release. He was arrested the day prior to a significant meeting with Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein.
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Following the release of the International Religious Freedom Report, Saperstein visited China in order to survey religious freedom in the country—with mixed results.
"During my visit [to China] in August," said Saperstein, according to the Guardian, "I found that despite widespread continuing government abuses and restrictions, many place of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing. ... But far more often, restrictive policies still stifle religious life," he added.
The arrest of Zhang and two of his colleagues right before his meeting with the ambassador, the Chinese government's refusal to allow him legal representation, and his location in a "black jail" where others have said they were tortured is deeply concerning to Zhang's friends and family and to international political leaders.
Cameron is positioned to make a real statement about the importance of human rights during Xi's visit.
In a nation where Christians may soon outnumber members of the Communist Party, religious freedom is a serious issue. "As a growing world power, China should embrace, rather than oppose, those who stand up for justice and righteousness under the law," said Robinson.
Release International publicized some of Zhang Kai's writing from Chinese social media. "Will there be more oppression against churches?" the persecuted lawyer wrote. "I want to answer with words from the Bible. 'Tribulation worketh patience; patience character, and character hope.' We should thank God for having been born in China in this era."