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US urges release of Chinese dissidents in growing crackdown

Washington has renewed its call for China to release a Christian rights activist and an underage boy suspected to be under house arrest. Secretary of State John Kerry attacked China for imprisoning people without cause.

The United States on Wednesday called on China to release human rights lawyer Zhang Kai and said it was concerned by reports that the son of another detained rights lawyer had been put under house arrest.

In releasing the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Zhang, a Chinese Christian, was detained shortly before a meeting in August with the US ambassador for international religious freedom, who was visiting China at the time. The US envoy told reporters in Washington that three human rights lawyers, four pastors and three or four other activists had been detained before he could meet them.

"I urge the release of men and women detained or imprisoned anywhere in the world for the peaceful expression and practice of their religious beliefs," Kerry told reporters.

"This includes Mr. Zhang Kai, a Chinese Christian human rights lawyer who was detained in late August just prior to a scheduled meeting with Ambassador [David] Saperstein, and whose present whereabouts are unknown."

Teenage boy suspected under house arrest

Separately, the State Department said it was concerned with reports that

Bao Zhuoxuan,

the 16-year-old son of detained rights lawyer Wang Yu and her detained husband Bao Longjun, had been put under house arrest in Inner Mongolia, China.

Wang Yu

Human right lawyer Wang Yu was put under arrest earlier this year

Wang Yu, a lawyer at the Fengrui law firm in Beijing, which defends prominent dissidents such as Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, was rounded up with her husband and son by state authorities in June. Her son was later released but was barred from travel.

"We urge China to uphold its international human rights commitments and protect the health and safety of this minor child," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

He added that China should allow Bao to leave the country and to study overseas as his family wanted.

Kirby said that the US was "disturbed by a seemingly systematic campaign by China to target family members of Chinese citizens who peacefully challenge official policy and work to protect the rights of others."

Since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, the Chinese government has taken a harder line towards civil and religious society. More than 200 lawyers and activists, including Zhang, were questioned or detained in July as part of a sweeping nationwide crackdown. The move has been

condemned by many foreign governments.

ss/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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