The United States on Wednesday urged China to release human rights lawyer Zhang Kai and said it was concerned over reports that the son of another detained rights lawyer had been placed under house arrest.
Releasing the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Zhang, a Chinese Christian, was detained shortly before a meeting in August with David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, who was visiting China.
Kerry said Zhang's whereabouts were unknown.
Speaking at the event, Saperstein called Zhang's detention part of a "growing crackdown on human rights lawyers in China, including those seeking to work within China's legal system to enhance religious freedom."
"We have continued to ask questions. We will continue on this and we hope that we will get answers," he added.
In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry said the matter should be left to Chinese authorities.
"The Chinese government will deal with the relevant issue in accordance with the law," spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing. "No country should use any reason to interfere with China's judicial independence and sovereignty or interfere with China's domestic affairs."
Saperstein said there were encouraging signs, despite government abuses and curbs.
"During my visit in August, I found that despite widespread continuing government abuses and restrictions, many place of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing," he said.
"In areas of the country where the government's hand was lighter, faith-based social service and welfare agencies operate homeless shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens, and made highly positive contributions to the well-being of their society," Saperstein said, adding that this could serve as a model for authorities.
He added, however, "Far more often, restrictive policies still stifle religious life."
Separately, the State Department said it was concerned over reports that Bao Zhuoxuan, the underage son of detained rights lawyer Wang Yu and her detained husband Bao Longjun, had been put under house arrest in Inner Mongolia.
"We urge China to uphold its international human rights commitments and protect the health and safety of this minor child," spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
He said China should allow Bao to leave the country and study overseas as his family wanted. "We call on China to remove restrictions on Bao Zhuoxuan's freedom of movement, and again urge China to release Wang Yu and Bao Longjun without condition," Kirby added.
The state-backed Global Times tabloid on Thursday said "anti-China forces" in the United States had plotted to try and smuggle Bao across borders.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Clarence Fernandez)