Pastor Zhang Shaojie, 48, belongs to the Nanle County Christian Church under the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). On 16 November, police forcibly detained Pastor Zhang without any formal documentation. Some sources suggest that his detention was a result of his work defending the rights of vulnerable groups. In response, a number of relatives and church members gathered in front of the police station and were subsequently beaten. Zhang’s sisters were also detained, and several church members were summoned to government offices. On 18 November, over a hundred church members and other supporters gathered in front of the city hall to demand Pastor Zhang’s unconditional release. The current whereabouts of Pastor Zhang and his sisters are unknown.
The protests have occurred amidst widespread speculation about potentially key reforms unveiled at the 18th Central Committee’s Third Plenum, a summit of top Communist Party officials from 9-12 November. Planned reforms include the abolition of the reeducation through labour (RTL) system, changes to the one-child population policy, a reduction in the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, and working towards a ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “These protests could be a sign that Christians in China are becoming bolder in the face of restrictions put in place by the authorities. If this is the case, it is also a sign that reform proposals need to be more than just words. Christians from both the Three Self Church and unregistered churches are taking steps to demand their right to freedom of religion or belief. CSW calls on the Chinese government to protect religious freedom not only for the Chinese within the state-sanctioned religious organisations, but also those in independent religious groups.”