Chinese lawyer behind "illegal religious gatherings": report

By the Agence France-Presse

A Chinese human rights lawyer was accused by state media of being the "mastermind" behind a series of "illegal religious gatherings" Thursday, in the latest in a deepening crackdown on lawyers and activists.

Zhang Kai, who represented churches fighting back against the Communist party's campaign to take down crosses, was seized by security officials last August.

He disappeared from the city of Wenzhou, dubbed "China's Jerusalem" for its large Christian population, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and his whereabouts remained unconfirmed for months.

Citing information from the city's public security bureau, state-run website Wenzhou Online said that Zhang had been identified as the "mastermind" behind a series of "illegal religious gatherings".

It further accused him of "accepting foreign trainings", "encouraging people to confront the government", and cheating people out of money, among other claims.

Under President Xi Jinping, China's ruling Communist party under has reasserted controls over civil society, detaining more than 130 human rights lawyers and legal staff in the past year.

Last week, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on China to release about 250 detained human rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists "immediately and without conditions".

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