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Freedom of expression curtailed by Beijing security law, says Primate of Hong Kong

24 June 2021

Alamy

Many people queue to buy the final edition of Apple Daily, at a newsstand in the central district of Hong Kong, on Thursday morning

Many people queue to buy the final edition of Apple Daily, at a newsstand in the central district of Hong Kong, on Thursday morning

ONE YEAR since the introduction of the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing, religious worship may have continued, but the Church’s freedom of expression has been curtailed, the Primate of Hong Kong, the Most Revd Andrew Chan, has said.

While the “psychological and emotional impact on individuals with religious beliefs might vary from person to person”, he said, “preachers are very cautious to use sensitive terminologies in their homilies.”

Archbishop Chan was installed earlier this year, and his words strike a different tone from those of his predecessor, Archbishop Paul Kwong, who defended the new law on its introduction. It has since led to widespread arrests of members of pro-independence groups, and, notably, employees of the remaining independent media.

In a letter to the Church Times last year (News, 10 July 2020), Archbishop Kwong said that the law would not “affect the Church or any other religious organisation”. International criticism was not founded in “Christian charity but on anti-China sentiment”. He retired in January.

The law was enacted on 30 June 2020, after Beijing lost patience with anti-government street protests. As a result, the UK suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and announced a new pathway to British citizenship for three million Hong Kong residents (News, 19 February).

Archbishop Chan said this month: “Religious sects, including the Christian Church, will engage attention from the authorities for the implementation of the relative laws. Up to the present, it seems that the law has not affected religion freedom in practicality, as all religious activities are organised and carried out as normal.” He spoke, however, of the psychological and emotional impact on people.

His words about the caution of preachers echo a warning given last year by the Apostolic Administrator in Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon, who told his clergy to avoid politics and to watch what they said in their homilies, as “our faithful are all the time listening to what we say and watching what we do.”

Archbishop Chan called on churches in the UK to welcome the Hong Kong residents moving to the UK under the new visa scheme; 34,000 requests were made from residents for the new visa in just two months at the beginning of this year, the Home Office reports.

“For church members, some networks have been set up between parishes of Hong Kong and some dioceses of the C of E in which Chinese ministries will be provided,” Archbishop Chan said. “It is hoped that church members would be cared for by local parishes, not only in terms of spiritual growth, but also development of their social connection and settlement of their daily life.”

The latest arrests under the new security law in Hong Kong have centred on Apple Daily, the pro-democracy paper whose owner, Jimmy Lai, was imprisoned last December. His sentence was increased in May to 20 months. He still awaits a hearing on the most serious charges, including alleged foreign collusion.

The first trial under the new law began on Tuesday, with the case of Tong Ying-Kit, who is accused of inciting secession, terrorism, and dangerous driving. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

The Apple Daily offices were raided last week, its bank accounts and assets were frozen, and senior executives and editors were arrested. It has now announced that it is closing: the final issue was published on Thursday.

The founder of Hong Kong Watch in the UK, Benedict Rogers, wrote a regular column for Apple Daily. He said that, although worship services might continue, religious freedom was far from being untouched, and referred to the freezing of the assets of the Good Neighbour North District Church, which had protected demonstrators during the widespread demonstrations against the new law.

The freezing of its assets has forced the closure of the church, which announced on its Facebook page earlier this month that it had “ceased operations”. Its pastor, Ray Chan, has now moved to the UK.

Mr Rogers welcomed the announcement of a new RC Bishop for Hong Kong: Fr Stephen Chow SJ. Described by observers as a prudent choice, he was not known for being pro-Beijing, but neither was he at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement.

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