Leading Christians who opposed removal of crosses from churches arrested
Zhejiang, on China’s eastern coast, is known for its large Christian population. The two most prominent Christian leaders who spoke out against and tried to prevent removal of church crosses have both been arrested and are currently thought to be held in a “black jail,” a secret holding facility.
Rev Yuese Gu
Rev Joseph Gu , one of China’s leading Christian pastors, was among the church leaders most critical of the cross removal campaign. He is the chief pastor at the Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, the biggest Protestant church in Zhejiang province with a congregation of 10,000 followers.
After speaking out against cross removal last July, he was officially dismissed a few weeks ago. Shortly after his dismissal the government-backed Hangzhou Christian Council in Zhejiang province announced in a statement.on 29 Jan that Rev Gu was being investigated on suspicion of embezzling funds.
The Hangzhou Christian Council said it had been notified by a “relevant department”, but gave no further details of the charges or evidence against Gu, nor did it say who was conducting the investigation. Police in Hangzhou did not respond to calls for comment from the media either.
Two of Rev Gu’s friends in Zhejiang said they had not been able to get in touch with him since the news of the investigation broke out. They pointed out that Gu had recently sent a message to his followers that spoke against the cross removal campaign. They asked for their names not to be disclosed as the matter is highly sensitive. It is likely that the accusations of embezzlement against Gu are linked to this recent message which criticised the government for removing crosses.
The U.S.-based organisation China Aid said that Rev Gu is reportedly in a “black jail”. Its president Bob Fu said that Rev Gu’s arrest “marks a major escalation in the crackdown against those who oppose the forced demolition of crosses”and added “He will be the highest-ranking national church leader arrested since the Cultural Revolution.”
Zhang Kai is the most prominent Christian lawyer in Zhejiang who was helping churches to try and prevent their crosses from being removed. He too languishes in a “black jail” after being detained by authorities in late August as he was about to give evidence on the cross-removal campaign to David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador-at-large-for religious freedom.
Zhang’s defense lawyer Zhang Chenshou received a handwritten letter dated 27 Jan stating “Thank you for being my lawyer. Because I am now cooperating in the investigation, I don’t need a lawyer for now. I will consider [you] when I need [your services]”.
As the letter was sent in a marked envelope of the Municipal Public Security Bureau of Wenzhou, it is likely the message was signed by Zhang under duress.
Forced dismissal of lawyers and denying access to a defence is illegal in China. However, this tactic is commonly used by the authorities, particularly in cases involving religious or ethnic minorities.