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US criticizes China for airing lawyer's 'confession'

The United States has condemned China for broadcasting the alleged confession of a well-known Christian human rights lawyer who has spent several months in detention. Washington has called for the prisoner's release.

Zhang Kai appeared on the state-controlled Wenzhou TV confessing to breaking the law by disturbing social order, endangering state security and engaging in unprofessional behavior.

The rights activist was detained last August after providing legal counsel to Christians resisting a government order to remove crosses from church buildings.

In the state news broadcast, Zhang said he felt "very remorseful" for urging Christians to protect their rights.

"These things violated China's law and violated my personal integrity as a lawyer," he said.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said such confessions were counter to the standards of a rule-of-law society.

"We urge China to release Zhang and others detained for seeking to peacefully uphold the freedom of religion guaranteed in China's constitution," he said.

In China, it's not unusual for suspects in high-profile cases to be shown confessing on state television. Rights groups say such confessions, which often take place before a trial, violate the suspect's right to due process.

Zhang's arrest in August came shortly before he was due to meet with the US envoy for international religious freedom. At the time, authorities were stripping crosses from thousands of churches, citing building code violations. The campaign sparked protests and anger among churchgoers in heavily Christian Wenzhou, in the eastern Zhejiang province.

Although Communist China officially guarantees freedom of religion, religious rights groups have accused authorities of increasing repression and intimidation.

nm/rc (Reuters, AP)

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