A prominent Christian rights lawyer in China has become the latest to have his “confession” to alleged crimes aired on state television. The confession comes after six months of being held in seclusion, denied access to his lawyers and family, and even before he has been indicted or tried in court.
Last August, Beijing-based attorney Zhang Kai was seized by police on suspicion of “gathering and disturbing social order” and “endangering state security,” after he had provided legal support to Christian churches in Zhejiang province who have been battling a controversial government decision to remove crosses from churches since late 2013.
Zheng appeared on the Wenzhou News Network late Thursday admitting to his alleged crimes, which include instigating church goers to protest the government’s demolition of crosses and accepting funds from China Aid – a U.S. non-profit group promoting religious freedom and rule of law in China - while defending more than 100 churches there.
“I felt remorseful for what I have done. I plead guilty. And I hope that the government can give me a chance to correct my wrongdoings,” Zhang said. He added, “I will repent sincerely, be committed to abiding by national laws and thoroughly break off relations with overseas [forces],” Zheng said.
It isn’t clear if the televised confession was made freely and without coercion.
In the confession, Zhang said that fortune and fame was the true reason why he participated in the fight against the removal of more than 1,200 crosses and some churches in Wenzhou. He urged his legal peers not to follow his bad example.
“I’d like to warn those so-called rights lawyers to not to collude with overseas [forces]. Don’t accept overseas money and don’t engage in any activity that will endanger state security and benefits,” he said.
In the name of religious freedom, foreign forces were meant to smear the human rights record in China and attack the Chinese government, the lawyer said in the video confession.
Confession seen as coerced
Bob Fu, founder and president of China Aid, said it’s clear that Zhang was under coercion.
“This confession is made like (looked like) an ISIS-style confession under tremendous pressure,” Fu said, referring to the Islamic State militant group.
These are typical interrogation strategies employed by Chinese police to manipulate the situation, convict the innocent and even question the authenticity of Zhang’s Christian faith, the right activist added.
Fu said that Zhang was prepared to go to jail in spite of the fact that he could have acquired more fame and fortune from other cases that are not as controversial.
And the courage Zhang has exhibited, he added, will only motivate right activists to stand firmer in their pursuit of true religious freedom in China.
“We will neither be intimidated, nor cease to continue to promote religious freedom and the rule of law to all in China more tirelessly,” Fu said.
Zhang’s lawyer Li Guisheng argued that the police in Wenzhou should have been the ones detained after having deprived Zhang of his legal representation – a clear violation of the nation’s Code of Criminal Procedures.
Li said he and two other lawyers have been repeatedly denied requests to meet with Zhang. Zhang’s family was also not allowed to see him.
“One hundred and eighty days have gone by without anything having been disclosed to us lawyers. Now the police allow reporters to talk to Zhang? This is absolutely ridiculous,” Li said.
“On the basis of what law could the police have granted the interview?,” Li asked.
Both Fu and Li expect Zhang to be released on bail in early March following his televised confession.
Zhang’s parents both declined to talk on Friday, although they had planned to earlier.
U.S.-based activist Zhou Fengsuo, who was one of those helping Zhang’s mother to reach out to the international media, said she has likely been ordered to remain silent.
“His mother has been very supportive of what her son had done and believed he has done the right thing,” Zhou said.
US urges release
The U.S. government and rights groups have long urged the Chinese government to release Zhang without any precondition.
Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said that this alleged confession “is another concerning development in the ongoing crackdown against those who seek to peacefully uphold human rights” in China.
As of last Friday, at least 317 lawyers and activists have been arrested, detained or missing since July of last year.