Lawyer Who Advised Churches in China Faces Secretive Detention

Hong Kong — A Chinese lawyer who has opposed a government campaign to tear down churches and church crosses faces up to six months in secretive detention after the police detained him and accused him of threatening state security, his colleague said on Tuesday.

The lawyer, Zhang Kai, who is from Beijing, disappeared into custody a week ago while in Wenzhou, a commercial city on the coast of Zhejiang Province, where many members of the large and prosperous Christian community have fought the government’s efforts to reduce the presence of churches.

Mr. Zhang was in Wenzhou advising a church when the police took him away last Tuesday, and they have since issued an order that could place him under secretive detention for six months, said Yang Xingquan, a colleague of Mr. Zhang’s from the Xinqiao Law Firm in Beijing. Mr. Yang, who was in Wenzhou looking for Mr. Zhang, cited information from the police and Christians in the city.

The police refused to allow Mr. Yang to see Mr. Zhang, and they did not explain why they had charged him with endangering state security and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order,” Mr. Yang said. Mr. Yang said he believed that Mr. Zhang’s assistant, Liu Peng, and another legal worker, Fang Xiangui, were also in secretive detention in Wenzhou.

“We haven’t been told where Zhang Kai is or really why he’s been detained,” Mr. Yang said.

“We’re still waiting to see whether we’ll be allowed to see him,” he said, citing comments from a police officer involved in the case. “Next, we’ll try to understand the circumstances and speak to people who had contact with him.”

Mr. Zhang’s case combines two aspects of tightening restrictions on civic life in China under President Xi Jinping that have alarmed human rights advocates: an intense drive against human rights lawyers and restrictions on religion.

Since July, hundreds of lawyers and activists who took on politically contentious causes, like abuse of police power and restrictions on expression, have been detained and questioned by the police, and several in Beijing have been charged with exploiting public grievances to undermine the government and enrich themselves. Their supporters have called the charges a travesty.

Amnesty International estimated last month that more than 230 had been detained and that at least 26 were still held by the police. According to Mr. Yang, who said he had spoken to a police officer involved in the case, Mr. Zhang was being held under a form of detention called “residential confinement.” The police, citing national security needs, have used that process to detain dissidents in secret without trial or access to lawyers or family.

Mr. Zhang is one of the most energetic legal advisers of churches in Wenzhou who has opposed government efforts to remove crosses, or demolish some churches, which officials have said violate zoning rules. The churches and their supporters say the government’s real intention is to reduce the visibility and influence of the churches.

“Christianity teaches us to submit,” Mr. Zhang said in July, according to Initium Media, a Chinese news website based in Hong Kong. “But what we ought to submit to is the Constitution and morality, not to illegal people and conduct.”