US urges China to free Christian activists and lawyers

A Christian woman reads a bible at a church in Zhejiang, China (30 July 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption Rights groups say scores of Chinese religious and rights activists have been detained in recent months

The US has called on China to release several lawyers and Christian leaders who were detained ahead of a meeting with a senior US official.

Among the detainees is Zhang Kai, a prominent Christian lawyer, as well as pastors and activists.

They were rounded up on 25 August, the evening before a planned meeting with David Saperstein, the US envoy for religious freedoms.

He described it as a "particularly alarming development".

'Precariousness of religious life'

"These detentions fit into the disturbing pattern of state intimidation of public interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, religious leaders," Mr Saperstein told reporters, saying other people who had met or tried to meet him had faced harassment.

"They clearly underscore the precariousness of religious life in China," he said.

"It is a source of great concern to us and we are calling on the government to immediately release all these human rights activists and religious leaders."

Mr Zhang has been representing Christians in Zhejiang province, where the authorities have been cracking down on Christianity, ordering churches to remove visible crosses and demolishing some church buildings.

He was arrested in Wenzhou, along with his assistants and a number of others.

His lawyer told BBC Chinese that Mr Zhang was accused of "undermining national security" and "disturbing social order" and was under police surveillance.

Some of those detained with him have since been released.

Rights group Amnesty International says it believes some 240 activists and lawyers have been detained or questioned in China since July.

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