A Beijing human rights lawyer who has offered legal counsel to churches targeted in a province-wide crackdown has “confessed” to “breaking the country’s law, disrupting social order, endangering state security” on state television.

During a Wenzhou television broadcast, a news anchor said that – starting in 2015 – there have been many “illegal gatherings” in Wenzhou, making it difficult for the authorities to carry out the “proper law enforcement” work of removing illegal Christian structures. After an investigation, it was revealed that Zhang Kai had been behind all of these incidents, the anchor claimed.

zhang kai
Zhang Kai in the televised confession. Photo: Youtube screencap.

“I very much regret doing these things… these acts violated the law of China, and went against the code of lawyers. They disrupted social order, endangered state security, and had a negative effect on the family,” the 37-year old lawyer said. He said that he knew the structures were in fact illegal, but he was taking action for the fame and money, claiming that he received RMB$2 million (HK$2.37 million) in legal counsel fees by helping churches.

See also: Ministry of Truth: A brief history of televised ‘confessions’ in China.

Zhang also said that there were “foreign forces” and overseas organisations involved, pretending to uphold human rights and religious freedom when it fact they seek to “smear” China and “politicise” the issue.

YouTube video

Cross-removing campaign

The authorities’ cross-removing campaign began in 2014 and is perceived to be a crackdown against the million-strong Christian population of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. Local authorities started removing exterior crosses from churches in the province, with officials claiming it was because they were illegal or unsafe structures.

church cross demolition
Christians protest in front of a church in Leqing, Wenzhou as authorities attempted to remove church cross.

Last August, dozens of Christians in the province stood in front of their local church to prevent authorities from removing a cross. According to estimates by local Christians, more than 1,300 crosses have been taken down and around 20 churches have been demolished. Over 500 Christians have been taken away by the police.

Crackdown on human rights lawyers

Zhang Kai, along with 30 other lawyers, formed a team to offer legal counsel to more than 100 churches in the province, BBC Chinese reported. On August 25, 2015, Zhang and his assistant was taken away by the Wenzhou police on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order” and “stealing, spying, purchasing, and illegally providing state secrets”. He has since been detained at an unknown location and has not been allowed to communicate with a lawyer or his family.

Zhang’s arrest came amid a nation-wide crackdown on human rights lawyers that began last July, with more than 130 attorneys and legal staff being arrested, detained or interrogated. Organisations such as Amnesty International have voiced their concern and repeatedly called for their release.

A poster calling for the release of the arrested lawyers. Photo: China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group via Facebook.
A poster calling for the release of the arrested lawyers. Photo: China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group via Facebook.

Under the provision of “residential surveillance in a designated place” in the Criminal Procedure Law, police are allowed to hold criminal suspects for up to six months outside of the formal detention system. They may be held anywhere from an apartment, to a hotel room or a private building. The six month period is about to come to an end for Zhang.

See More: Chinese Christians make crosses at home as church crosses are removed by gov’t.

Gui Minhai
Gui Minhai. Photo: CCTV screencap.

The most recent people to be featured in televised “confessions” include Peter Dahlin, a Swedish national who worked for a human rights NGO in China. Mainland-born Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai also appeared on CCTV. He disappeared in Thailand three months ago and re-appeared in China “admitting” to evading a two-year jail term following a drink-driving death 13 years ago.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.