Hong Kong’s Slippery Slope to Slavery
By Gina Goh
01/09/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – An isolated murder case in 2018 sparked months of protests in Hong Kong, jeopardizing the freedom and rights that the region has enjoyed for years against the backdrop of communist China.
In February 2018, a girl from Hong Kong was murdered in Taiwan by her boyfriend, Chan Tong-kai, who immediately fled to Hong Kong. In the name of pursuing justice, the Hong Kong government sought to propose an amendment bill that, if passed, would essentially allow the extradition of convicts in the territory of Hong Kong to countries where it did not previously have an extradition agreement, including Taiwan and China. The public feared that sending prisoners to mainland China, a country known for its tarnished judicial system and tainted human rights record, would be a slippery slope to injustice.
The bill, formally proposed last February, drew millions of protesters to the streets. The simple murder case had become something more.
“Although the Hong Kong government promises that criminals of political, religious, and human rights nature would not be extradited, when China wants to oppress you, they can charge you with ‘unlawful assembly,’ ‘illegal publication,’ or economic crimes,” Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told ICC.
In 1997, Great Britain transferred the colony of Hong Kong over to China under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement, ensuring that Hong Kong’s economic and political systems would be protected for 50 years. This new fight to protect freedom of expression and democracy has turned into a call for true democracy, greater rights, and an investigation into police brutality.
While Hong Kong generally enjoys religious freedom and has thriving religious communities, Christians were concerned that the bill could endanger those involved in China-related ministries, who could be handed over to China and face imprisonment. A Hong Kong Christian businessman, Lai Kwong Keung, was accused of smuggling thousands of Bibles into southeastern China and sentenced to two years in prison for “illegal trading” in 2002.
“While the government might be cautious to implement the law at first (with the goal to let people’s guard down), this ‘knife’ is still dangling above your head. It creates fears and invites self-censorship,” Fuk-tsang added. “For Hong Kongers, it will be much more challenging to do any ministry inside China in the future.”
And the Chinese government has done just that. In 2018, the Chinese government shut down a massive, 700-member underground house church in China, Early Rain Covenant Church. Sixteen members of the church were criminally detained and more than 150 were interrogated by the police. Pastor Wang Yi was transferred to Beijing for “inciting subversion of state power.”
Chinese authorities began investigating the church’s pastor, Wang Yi, on the charge of “illegal business activities” as well. Two of the church’s elders, Li Yingqiang and Qin Derfu, were also accused of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” and “running an illegal business.”
With these actions taking place in China, Christians were concerned that the amendment would enable the Hong Kong government to bridge the gap between China and Hong Kong. Hong Kongers see their resistance as the last ditch effort to defend their promised freedoms.
The government has conceded amid months of unrest and growing pressure. On October 23, Hong Kong’s legislature formally withdrew the extradition bill. Yet, this move has been regarded by protesters as long overdue. Dozens of lives have been lost, thousands of people have been assaulted and arrested, and the government is now ruling the region as if it is a police state.
While Hong Kong Christians can still freely worship, Benedict Rogers, the East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, told ICC, “We have already seen a crackdown recently in mainland China on churches that have links with Hong Kong, and we could see further restrictions on Hong Kong churches that are involved in ministry in mainland China. It is also possible that churches which have members or leaders who have been outspoken against the extradition bill or in support of the protesters may experience difficulties … Other freedoms have been eroded and if this continues, it will only be a matter of time before freedom of religion is affected.”