THE Anglican bishops in Hong Kong have renewed their appeal for calm after a siege and clashes between protesters and police in one of the city’s universities.
Violence escalated this week, as the protests — which have now lasted five months — continued (News, 14 June). Initially sparked by a Bill to allow the extradition of suspected criminals in Hong Kong to mainland China, the protests have widened to include police brutality and the way in which Hong Kong is administered by Beijing.
A small hard core of anti-government protesters were thought to be trapped still in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Wednesday: supplies of food and water are running low. Protesters have been there since last week and were lighting fires and throwing petrol bombs at the circling police. Some escaped by abseiling down from the building on to waiting motorbikes; many other have surrendered and been arrested.
The Revd Dr William Devlin, an American priest who founded a humanitarian organisation, spent a night with protesters at the university.
In an interview posted on Facebook, he said: “First, we come to praise and pray with the pastors who are following Jesus to stand with the protesters. Secondly, we are here to support thousands of young people, and let them know that we fought the same fight for the global values of democracy and freedom. We have been there; so we understand and support you,” he said.
The three bishops, led by the Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, this week expressed their “deep concern” at the violence and appealed again for calm.
“We further appeal to all stakeholders to exercise self control, so that the crisis may be resolved without violence, but with reason, empathy, and legitimacy. We hope that all students may go home . . . safely.
“We believe that all who dwell on earth are children of God. . . We ardently wish that we may learn to live together in forgiveness . . . and peace,” they said, in a statement released on Monday.
Many Christians, including pastors and clergy, have taken part in the protests, with some acting as buffers on the front line between protesters and the police.
One such group, Protect the Children, is made up of church workers, social workers, and elderly people who wear distinctive vests to mark them out. Other churches have opened their doors to provide sanctuary to protesters, though one — a Roman Catholic church — was stormed by police, and protesters sheltering inside were arrested and taken away.
The Roman Catholic diocese of Hong Kong, which includes 40 churches, 33 chapels, and 27 halls, later issued a statement expressing regret about the incident, and said that its churches could no longer protect people who sought refuge.
Hong Kong had previously banned protesters from wearing face masks, but this was deemed “unconstitutional” by the city’s High Court on Monday.
China has condemned the High Court’s decision.
Some church leaders have criticised the Church for being too passive in the face of police treatment of protesters.
The Revd Dr Kwok Man-chee, aged 60, who chairs the Evangelical Free Church of China, which has 35,000 members and runs more than 50 churches, a college, a hospital, and a seminary, said that Churches should be giving hope to the residents of Hong Kong.
“I don’t see anything showing Hong Kong Churches leading the movement,” he said.