High-profile lawyer Jiang Tianyong, 41, who has campaigned for religious freedom in China, was seized by police on February 19. His concerned wife, Jin Bianling, has appealed to Christians worldwide to pray for the safe return of her husband.
He had told the human rights group Release International he always knew his work as a human rights lawyer in China could get him into trouble.
Christianity in China is officially permitted, but only in “Three-Self Movement” churches organized by the Chinese government. As many as 150 million Christians are estimated to participate in unregistered “home churches,” which are banned by the government. It is also illegal to take anyone under the age of 18 to church.
“I knew what I was doing was very dangerous,” Jiang said before his disappearance. “I hope God will protect me and my family; but on that day when things happen, I can only lift this up to His hand. Please pray that the Lord will strengthen me and give me wisdom.”
Authorities have refused to tell his family where they are holding him or to reveal details of any charges against him.
Also missing since mid-February are a number of prominent Chinese human rights lawyers who vanished into police custody amid calls for a public uprising, citing human rights violations by the Chinese government.
“The United States government has called on China to stop what it calls the ‘extralegal’ abductions and detentions of lawyers and human rights activists,” reports BBC reporter Damian Grammaticas from Beijing. “Since the middle of February human rights groups say more than a dozen high-profile figures have disappeared.”
They include Teng Biao, a law professor known for challenging abuses of power by the Communist Party and the state. He was summoned to a police station on February 19. Officers raided his home, took away computers and documents but issued no notice of his detention.
Speaking in Washington, state department spokesman P. J. Crowley said the U.S. government is “increasingly concerned” by the “enforced disappearance of some of China’s most well-known lawyers and activists.”
Also missing is Tang Jitian, taken away from his home by police on February 16.
The human right group Human Rights in China calls the round-up “a concerted, large-scale crackdown with a severity rarely seen in recent years”.
Originally charged with subversion, Gao had given a detailed account of the torture he said he had endured at the hands of the authorities. Jiang told Release International he fully expected to suffer the same fate:
“The authorities tied Gao up and beat him continually. They used an electric shock baton on his penis. As a human being I am definitely afraid of such torture, but that cannot stop us doing the right thing – the pursuit of justice,” the Christian lawyer said.
Jiang said the authorities were using torture to try to intimidate attorneys and human rights activists. “It is a deterrent to other human rights lawyers,” he said. “They want to fill our hearts with terror and fear. They also imply that the treatment Gao suffered could also happen to us.”
According to reports, Jiang was taken to a police station for interrogation where his head was knocked against a wall. He was released five hours later, then rearrested on the 19th. Authorities have refused to tell his wife where they are holding him or whether he has been charged.
Jiang, an unabashed Christian, has represented cases of religious persecution in China and has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on issues of religious freedom.
When he returned from the U.S. he was forcibly arrested and his wife beaten, in front of their terrified seven-year-old daughter.
“This is a brave man who loves his country and wants nothing more than fairness and justice,” said Release International spokesman Andy Dipper. “In cracking down on Jiang and other lawyers, all the authorities are doing is proving their point – that there is still a crying need for human rights to be respected in China. Release calls on the Chinese authorities to make it clear where Jiang is being held and what the charges are against him.
“How China treats her lawyers is a true indication to the world of her respect for the law and for human rights. There is no greater measure of a nation’s standing than its love for justice and the freedom it permits its citizens. China, show the world you have the self-confidence to let these lawyers go.”
“Jiang, Tang and Teng have disappeared into China’s labyrinthine security system in the past two weeks,” reported China Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong-based group. “More than 100 other people have had their movements restricted, and six activists face subversion charges, possibly for posting information online about the ‘Jasmine Rallies.’”
The disappearances began shortly after website postings last month called on Chinese to “take a stroll” in specific spots in dozens of cities in China on Sunday afternoons. Organizers ridicule the Communist leadership and its slogans and accuse the government of corruption.
“We only need one slogan for our Jasmine Revolution, and that is terminate one-party rule,” one posting said, according to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper.
Several foreign journalists were warned by Chinese police that they risk having their visas revoked if they continue to report on the Jasmine Rallies. Dozens of foreign journalists who tried to cover gatherings were summoned to police stations for interviews, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said Thursday in a warning to members.
In an Internet statement, the “Jasmine” organizers said, “China’s government clearly shows its horror and fear of the people, as if facing a deadly enemy. A modest amount of people, just by walking, has demonstrated people’s power, and the government’s response has revealed its weakness to the world.”
Three police officers at separate stations believed to be involved in Jiang’s detention refused to answer questions when contacted by USA Today newspaper. His wife’s concerns and lack of information, are commonplace among the relatives and friends of people targeted by Chinese security forces.
“I can’t sleep at night,” says Pang Jinhua, mother-in-law of lawyer Teng. “I don’t understand why he has been taken. He takes on cases to help ordinary people. He doesn’t break rules or do anything bad,” she says.
Jiang’s wife repeatedly has asked that Christians worldwide pray for her husband’s safety and that he will be allowed to return home to his family.