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Two Christian Pastors in China Detained in Unknown Locations After They Refused to Remove Church Crosses

( [email protected] ) Sep 25, 2015 03:03 PM EDT
Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have detained two Protestant preachers after they refused to submit to a government order demanding they remove all visible crosses from their church buildings.
More than 1,200 crosses have been removed and several churches have been completely demolished by government forces in the Zhejiang province, which is commonly referred to as "China's Jerusalem" due to its large Christian population. Reuters

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have detained two Protestant preachers after they refused to submit to a government order demanding they remove all visible crosses from their church buildings.

Radio Free Asia reports that Zhang Chongzhu "disappeared" three weeks ago while traveling home from Shanghai, while Zhang Zhi, a preacher from Pingyang county's Xianqiao Church, disappeared on September 7th.

The two pastors, who both remain under residential surveillance at an unknown location, are being held on suspicion of "gathering, stealing, buying and illegally providing state secrets" as well as "espionage."

"They are saying it's for gathering and leaking state secrets or some such thing," Pastor Zhang's wife told RFA.  

"Of course I haven't been allowed [to visit him]," she added. "If someone is held under residential surveillance, it seems that even their lawyer doesn't get to meet with them."

Zhang's wife also dismissed the allegations against her husband as "ridiculous."

"I think this is too ridiculous for words," she said. "But we are powerless to do anything; we can't sue the government," she said. "All we can do is pray."

The two men are among dozens detained amid an ongoing crackdown on Christians leaders who have actively fought the Communist government's efforts to remove crosses from church rooftops and reduce the presence of churches in the area.

Thus far, more than 1,200 crosses have been removed and several churches have been completely demolished by government forces in the Zhejiang province, which is commonly referred to as "China's Jerusalem" due to its large Christian population.

China is officially atheist but constitutionally guarantees religious freedom. However, the country's government has exhibited a growing discomfort with Christianity, whose followers are said to rival in number the 86 million members of the Communist Party.   

Amnesty International estimated last month that more than 230 protesters have been detained over the last year, and at least 23 people, many of them pastors, still remain in police custody.

In August, Zhang Kai, Christian lawyer who had been advising churches resisting government orders to remove crosses from church roofs, was detained by state police. Citing security concerns, police are currently keeping him under residential confinement, a tactic which allows them to detain dissidents in secret without trial or access to lawyers or family.

According to an Aug. 27 notice sent by the Wenzhou municipal police department to his family, Zhang is being held on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order," "spying" and illegally gathering, buying and supplying state secrets overseas."

"[Zhang] hasn't come back yet," the church member said. "There are a lot of people whose whereabouts we don't know. In all, there are 18 people [gone], and three of them were lawyers ... They are doing this to put pressure on the churches, but we won't cave in."