The United States has again called on China to release Christian human rights lawyer Zhang Kai, who was detained by authorities in August. Mr. Zhang had been helping Christian churches fight the government’s campaign in Zhejiang province to remove crosses and demolish churches. He was arrested just prior to a scheduled meeting with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein.
Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue of Zhang Kai’s detention at the release of the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report. At the same event, Ambassador Saperstein stated that “despite widespread, continuing government abuses and restriction” on religious practice, he observed many places of worship that were “full and flourishing” during his August visit to China. He also observed that in certain areas “where the government’s hand was lighter” faith-based social service agencies were able to make positive contributions to their society. Nonetheless Ambassador Saperstein cautioned that, “far more often, restrictive policies still stifled religious life.”
The State Department has listed China as a Country of Particular Concern every year since 1999 for its severe violations of religious freedom. In its newly published report, the State Department cited allegations of torture, physical abuse, arrest, imprisonment, and harassment “of a number of religious adherents of both registered and unregistered groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.”
Examples include reports of the shooting and killing of Uighur Muslims “during house raids and protests after…stricter government controls on religious expression and practice;” the detention and torture of four lawyers in Heilongjiang Province after they attempted “to investigate an extrajudicial detention facility where Falun Gong practitioners were reported to be held;” the sentencing of prominent state-sanctioned Christian pastor Zhang Shaojie to 12 years in prison; the detention of 50 Zen Buddhists after their businesses and homes were raided to examine residency registration documents; severe restrictions on Tibetan Buddhists, which led to the deaths of 11 Tibetan monks, nuns and laypersons by self-immolation in protest.
Secretary of State Kerry said, “No nation can fulfill its potential if its people are denied the right to practice, to hold, to modify, to openly profess their innermost beliefs.” In addition to Zhang Kai, he urged “the release of men and women detained or imprisoned anywhere in the world for the peaceful expression and practice of their religious beliefs,” and called on all “to affirm our faith in the principles of religious freedom that the world community has endorsed so many times.”