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Beijing activists call in 20 lawyers to defend pastor

Signs that Christians are starting to speak out on persecution

Mike MacLachlan, Bangkok

November 25, 2013

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Rights defenders in Beijing have assembled more than 20 lawyers to defend a detained church pastor and 25 church members, the US-based rights group ChinaAid said at the weekend.

The action was taken after the defence team encountered little cooperation from authorities in Henan province, it said.

On November 18 more than 100 supporters of the pastor, Zhang Shaojie, joined a protest calling for his release from prison, the London-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said.

Zhang, 48, is a Protestant pastor of the Nanle County Christian Church in Henan province, which is part of the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

Police forcibly detained him on November 16, CSW said, and following protests at the police station where he was held his sisters were detained and other church members were summoned to government offices.

Earlier this month, ChinaAid reported another protest in Henan, this time involving thousands of Christians, over a land dispute between a church in Anyang city and the local authority.

CSW said in a statement at the weekend that the protests come soon after key reforms to the penal system were announced at the Central Committee’s third plenum.

“These protests could be a sign that Christians are becoming bolder in the face of restrictions. If this is the case it is also a sign that reform proposals need to be more than just words,” said CSW’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas.

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