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Press watchdog calls on China to release church demolition reporter


The International press freedom body, Reporters Without Borders, is calling on Chinese authorities to release a journalist detained after posting an online report about a church demolition.

Zan Ai-zong, the Hangzhou bureau of Beijing-based China Ocean News, who is said to be a Christian, was arrested on 11 August, the day after being sacked by the news outlet.

"This new arrest cruelly illustrates that it is impossible for a Chinese journalist to investigate and write about subjects such as the persecution of religious minorities," the press freedom organization says on its Web site. "Zan had the courage to post reports on Web sites that he would never have been able to write for his government-controlled newspaper."

Zan is to be charged with "the suspicion of spreading rumors to disturb public order" for posting reports on the Internet, strongly criticising the local authorities that demolished a half-built church building on 29 July.

Police in Xiaoshan, part of Hangzhou on China’s east coast, have been holding Zan under "administrative detention" since 11 August, his friends say.

About 3000 Protestant Christians clashed with 500 police over the demolition of the church building on 29 July. The official Xinhua news agency reported on 1 August that two people arrested were involved in the illegal construction of the church building.

Reporters without Borders said, however, there were 20 Protestant Christians being held by the Zhejiang authorities for protesting against the destruction of the church, and "some of them have allegedly been tortured during interrogation".

The Texas-based China Aid Association quoted an appeal by the Chinese House Church Alliance to the Chinese government to provide an arrest list and details of the situation of those arrested, as well as the release all Christians and allowing proper places to worship.

Xinhua has reported that China has more than 15 million Christians. In Xiaoshan, it said, the number stands at 80 000.

The news agency has said there are more than 25 000 Christian meeting places and 12 000 churches across China.

(c) Ecumenical News International