Saturday, February 17, 2024

Proposed Hong Kong Law Sparks Fears of Religious Persecution

A religious freedom advocate from Hong Kong is sounding the alarm over proposed legislation that could further restrict religious liberty and lead to the persecution of the Catholic Church and other Christian groups.

Frances Hui, a Hong Kong native who fled to the United States and now serves as the policy and advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, expressed her concerns during a recent panel discussion with the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Hong Kong has seen increasing threats to human rights including religious liberty since it was handed over to communist China by the United Kingdom in July 1997. 

Prior to that, China agreed to allow the region considerable political autonomy for 50 years under its "one country, two systems" policy. But Beijing's 2020 national security law gave China broad new powers to crack down on Hong Kong citizens for many kinds of "dissent."

Catholic Church and Other Groups Threatened

Hui warned that Article 23, a proposed expansion of the controversial 2020 national security law, could be used to target foreign organizations, including missionaries, and restrict communication between the Catholic Church in Hong Kong and the Vatican.

"A lot of small- to medium-scale church groups, the Catholic Church, and foreign missionaries would all be affected," Hui explained.

Hui further emphasized the vagueness of the proposed legislation, which she believes could be weaponized against religious groups. 

Having this law passed would be a great threat to religious groups.

"We don't know how they're going to use this law, but having this law passed would be a great threat to religious groups," she stated. 

Hui warned of a potential scenario where the Catholic Church in Hong Kong could be forced to join the Chinese government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, mirroring the situation in mainland China.

"[I]f they don't like what you're doing and they have targeted you, they have the law at their disposal to use that to threaten you and put you in jail," Hui cautioned.

Hui urged international attention to the issue, stating, "I think this is something the world and the American government should pay attention to and speak up against."

General Pushback

Article 23, initially proposed in 2002 and rejected due to widespread opposition, was revived by Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu in 2022. A one-month consultation period on the proposal concluded on Jan. 30, 2024.

Nearly 300 people in Hong Kong have been arrested under the national security law since its implementation in 2020, including pro-democracy journalist Jimmy Lai. Critics argue this represents a crackdown on free speech and political opposition.

The United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China has called for sanctions against those involved in Lai's case and similar prosecutions.

William McGurn, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and Lai's godfather, highlights the broader impact of the crackdown. He surmises Lai would not want people to forget about others who are locked up and who do not have his name recognition. 

A recent report by the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation found that religious freedom is "deteriorating" in the city. 

The report cites accusations against Catholic and Christian groups of supporting "violent protests" and collaborating with "foreign organizations" under the national security law.

The proposed expansion of the national security law raises concerns about the future of religious freedom in Hong Kong and its potential alignment with China's communist government regarding its policies regarding religious groups.