On Thursday, as Christian supporters of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who has defied a June 15 Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of gay couples to marry, lined up against her opponents chanting hymns and holding signs with slogans, such as “Turn to Jesus or burn,” as reported by ABC, little was known about the whereabouts of Zhang Kai, a Chinese human rights lawyer representing Christians under a Chinese government order to destroy churches and tear down crosses.
“We haven’t been told where Zhang Kai is or really why he’s been detained,” another human rights lawyer from Zhang’s firm, Yang Xingquan, was quoted by the New York Times as saying.
Zhang’s imprisonment comes amid what human rights observers say is a crackdown on religious and human rights that began in July. Hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists have been detained and questioned, with several facing charges of exploiting the public’s fears, undermining the government, and seeking personal gain.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International stated in a press release that 245 human rights lawyers and activists in China have been targeted and that 30 are still being held.
Yang reports speaking with a Chinese police officer with regard to Zhang’s secret jailing who stated that Chinese national security prompted the jailing of the dissidents with no due process or communication with family members or associates.
The Chinese lawyer also reports that two of Zhang’s associates, Liu Peng and Fang Xiangui, are being held in a secretive prison in Wenzhou, a coastal city in Zhejiang Province, where Zhang was originally apprehended.
Zhang had been in Wenzhou working with a church on August 25 when he disappeared. Wenzhou is reported to be home to a large Christian community that has been vocal on Chinese government’s moves to limit religious freedom and remove symbols of Christianity from the public eye.
The human rights advocate has been accused of “stealing, spying into, purchasing, or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to an organ, organization, or individual outside the country,” and “disturbing public order.” The Cornell University Law School lists the spying charge as eligible for the death penalty under Chinese law.
Advocates of the human rights lawyer call the charges a “travesty.”
“Christianity teaches us to submit,” Zhang Kai was quoted, “But what we ought to submit to is the Constitution and morality, not to illegal people and conduct.”
Lawyers representing couples who had been refused marriage licenses in Kentucky by Kim Davis asked that the clerk be found in contempt of court and fined, but they did not seek jail time. However, U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning eschewed the request, stating that fines alone would not change the clerk’s mind, upholding the rights of gay couples to wed in the state.
[Church Photo by Cancan Chu/Getty Images – Zhang Kai Sreenshot Courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison]