A Protestant lawyer has been detained by police after launching a legal fight against Chinese authorities responsible for removing thousands of church crosses in Zhejiang province.
Lawyer Zhang Kai and his intern assistant Liu Peng were detained after police reportedly jumped a wall at Xialing Church in Wenzhou during the night of Aug. 25.
"We can imagine that police have lost control of their emotions because churches are now using the law to defend their rights," said Luke, a Protestant pastor in Wenzhou who gave only his Christian name.
A dozen Protestant pastors were also summoned or detained by police over the past two days, including Wei Wenhai of Tengqiao church, who recently publicized his mobile phone number so journalists could report on Christian persecution.
Only one of the pastors has been freed so far. Wei’s mobile was not contactable on Aug. 27.
The police response follows Zhang’s recent legal challenges against Zhejiang authorities amid a campaign that has seen more than 1,200 Christian crosses removed since the end of 2013.
Xinqiao Law Firm in Beijing, which employs Zhang and Liu, issued a statement protesting their arrests and demanding their immediate release.
"He has fulfilled all the requirements to take over the cases. Liu, an intern lawyer, also has valid legal accreditation to practice," it said.
Zhang had left Beijing to work on cross-removal cases full time in Wenzhou and last month started a new group: Lawyers for the Protection of the Cross.
In a bold statement issued in July, Zhang promised legal action against authorities in Huzhou, northern Zhejiang, following a notice to remove the cross of a local church.
"We will sue the procuratorate on behalf of the Christians in the village," he said.
In another case, Zhang deemed the cross at Lingnei Church "stolen" because authorities had not produced any legal justification for its removal last month. The church then hired Zhang and replaced its cross in defiance of authorities.
More than 100 Protestant churches have sought pro bono legal advice from Zhang in recent weeks in a bid to protect their crosses, a sign of growing resistance to the government campaign.
Police seized copies of these church agreements, case files and Zhang’s computer during the raid in which he was detained, according to a Wenzhou-based Christian using a private online chat room.
"Zhang Kai’s case is incredibly important because it represents the intersection of China’s unprecedented campaign against human rights lawyers and the ongoing campaign against Christianity and other unauthorized forms of religious expression," William Nee, China researcher for Amnesty International, told ucanews.com.
Zhang’s seizure by police follows the detention of more than 270 lawyers and their family members last month in an unprecedented crackdown across China.
More than a dozen people are still in detention with no word on how they are being treated, said Or Yan-yan of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese Justice and Peace Commission.
"Although mass arrests of lawyers has calmed down, the whole thing has not ended," she said.