Bishop warns Hong Kong Catholics of impending Chinese crackdown

hong kong
People observe a minute of silence during a memorial prayer in memory of university student Alex Chow, who died of head injuries sustained in a fall as police clashed with protesters. Photo taken on November 9, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. |

The Vatican’s unofficial representative in Hong Kong had warned the city’s Catholic missions that tough days lay ahead as China increasingly restricted religious freedom.

“Change is coming, and you better be prepared,” Bishop Javier Herrera Corona, a Mexican bishop who served in the city for six years before his term ended in March, told the city’s Catholic missions this month, Reuters reported. “Hong Kong is not the great Catholic beachhead it used to be.”

Herrera-Corona warned of the upcoming restrictions during four meetings with Catholic missions in Hong Kong between last October and March.

The 54-year-old Mexican, who is now archbishop in the Republic of Congo and Gabon, said Hong Kong’s closer integration with China could lead to continental-style restrictions on religious groups.

According to Reuters, Herrera-Corona and other envoys from the unofficial mission to the city had begun quietly moving archival records overseas for safekeeping even before the national security law was enforced in 2020. , ending a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong after the 1997 British handover.

Hong Kong’s national security law can restrict fundamental freedoms and has four categories of crimes: succession, subversion of state power, local terrorist activities, and collaborating with foreign or external foreign forces to endanger national security.

“The law also puts Beijing above the Hong Kong judicial system in cases deemed to be related to national security,” reported US-based watchdog group China Aid. “This means that the judges in these cases must be approved by Beijing. Hong Kong residents can now also be taken to China, where they will face a courtroom with allegiance to the government.

In May, Chinese officials arrested the 90-year-old former archbishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, on charges related to Hong Kong’s national security law. He was arrested along with trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which supported protesters during the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

Earlier this year, a Chinese state-run newspaper accused the churches and Cardinal Zen of inciting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and called for greater control of Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party.

Late last month, the Reverend Jonathan Aitken, an Anglican priest, former UK cabinet minister and member of parliament, also warned against restrictions as Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the 25th anniversary of the transfer of the city from Great Britain to China.

“The skies are darkening for religious freedom in Hong Kong,” Aitken said during a speech at the National Club in London on June 29, UCA News reported. “There are increasingly worrying signs” that religious freedom in Hong Kong is “next on the list of targets for destructive forces” of the Xi regime.

China has often been accused of violating the rights of religious minorities, including Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghur Muslims.

Open Doors USA, which covers persecution in more than 60 countries, estimates that China has more than 97 million Christians, many of whom worship in unregistered or so-called “illegal” underground churches.

The five state-sanctioned religious groups in China are the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Three-Self Protestant Patriotic Movement, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

Even organizations within the five permitted religions are subject to oversight and limitations.

Internet censorship targeting Christians in China, including government-sanctioned Christian groups, is severe.

In April, a well-known Christian website disappeared after serving believers for about 21 years.

China has been labeled for years by the US State Department as a “country of particular concern” for gross violations of religious freedom.

The United States has accused the Chinese Communist Party of committing genocide against the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic minority of about 12 million people heavily concentrated in the western province of Xinjiang. Estimates suggest that more than a million people, including Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, were held in tightly controlled concentration camps in Xinjiang.

In these camps, prisoners learn to be secular citizens who will never oppose the ruling Communist Party. Those who fled the region spoke of forced abortions and the torture they suffered.

China has continuously denied allegations of unjust detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims.

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