Prominent Christian lawyer Zhang Kai is the latest in a growing number of people in China who appear to be forced to confess on state television to purported crimes.
Mr. Zhang, who had provided legal services to Christian churches in Zhejiang province that were resisting a government campaign of cross removals and church demolitions, was detained by authorities in August 2015 prior to a scheduled meeting with visiting U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein.
Authorities denied repeated requests by his lawyers and family members for access to Zhang during his detention. He had not been seen in public since that time until he appeared on state media February 25 and reportedly confessed to several crimes, including disrupting social order and endangering China’s national security. He also warned human rights lawyers in China to take his case as “a warning not to collude with foreigners” or “harm national security.”
Human rights groups have observed that Zhang’s so-called confession appeared scripted and coerced.
In its most recent report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department noted the government of the People’s Republic of China “exercised state control over religion and restricted the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when these were perceived, even potentially, to threaten state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests.”
It also cited reports that “the government tortured, physically abused, detained, arrested, sentenced to prison, or harassed a number of religious adherents of both registered and unregistered groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.”
Speaking about the case of Zhang Kai at a recent press briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said the United States is “very concerned about Chinese state media’s airing of a purported confession by Zhang Kai prior to any indictment and, frankly, any judicial process whatsoever. Such confessions are counter to the standards of a rule of law society.”
Mr. Toner added, “We urge China to release Zhang and others detained for seeking to peacefully uphold the freedom of religion guaranteed in China’s constitution.”