China releases Christian human rights lawyer held for months in detention
China has released a Christian human rights lawyer detained after representing churches whose crosses were demolished by government officials, a rights group said.
Zhang Kai was detained in late August ahead of a scheduled meeting with David Saperstein, a US envoy researching religious freedom. Secretary of State John Kerry called for his release.
Texas-based rights group China Aid said on its website that Zhang had been freed on Wednesday, citing a social media message in which he said: “I have already safely arrived home.”
Since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, the officially atheist Communist party has taken a harder line towards civil and religious society, including its some 70 million Christians.
More than 200 lawyers and legal activists, including Zhang, were questioned or detained in July as part of a sweeping nationwide crackdown. About a dozen have been formally arrested.
Officials in eastern Zhejiang province have demolished churches or removed crosses from their exteriors in a campaign that rights groups say has affected hundreds of parishes.
The state-run website Wenzhou Online last month cited police in Zhejiang as saying that Zhang had been identified as the “mastermind” behind a series of “illegal religious gatherings”.
China Aid said Zhang had offered legal assistance to about 100 churches affected by the ongoing cross demolition campaign.
Zhang, a Christian, was held under a form of detention that allows suspects to be held for up to six months in an undisclosed location, it added.
Beijing had rejected US calls to free Zhang, adding it had “no right to interfere with China’s judicial sovereignty and China’s domestic affairs”.