By Gina Goh
07/01/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Today marks the 1st anniversary of the National Security Law (NSL), a draconian legislation that threatens Hong Kong’s guaranteed freedoms and rights in the name of safeguarding security. Coincident or not, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also celebrates its 100th birthday on July 1.
While Beijing has been gearing up for the grandiose celebrations for months, people in Hong Kong, on the other hand, are mourning their lost freedoms, as journalists, politicians, activists, or ordinary citizens take their turn being incarcerated for any “crime” that is deemed anti-government.
Pro-democracy Apple Daily’s recent closure and ongoing arrests of the newspaper’s former employees and leadership indicate the rapidly fading press freedom and freedom of speech. The purge of the pro-democracy lawmakers turned the Legislative Council into a “rubber stamp” parliament. Mass protest is no longer allowed by the police.
The Hong Kong as we know it no longer exists. At least 20% of Hong Kong residents plan to leave the region for good, according to a March poll. In 2020 alone, 39,800 people departed from Hong Kong to seek a better future.
ICC reached out to four pastors from Hong Kong, two of whom already fled to other countries, to learn about their concerns for their homeland and the future for the Church a year after the NSL came into effect.
Reverend Lo Hing-choi, who once headed the Baptist Convention in Hong Kong, told ICC his reasons for leaving. “The space for freedom of speech in Hong Kong has severely shrunk; criminalizing someone for his comments has become a regular occurrence. I have issued some statements opposing the government’s policies or draft legislations with regards to social/political issues in the past, so there is a risk for me to be retaliated. That is why I left Hong Kong.”
Pastor Eugene*, who is now residing in the United Kingdom with his wife and his son’s family, shared that knowing the environment for education and politics in Hong Kong will only be worse, to give his grandchildren better and free education, his son decided to head to the U.K. and invited his parents along.
He told ICC, “I have been caring for what has happened in the society, and I have taken part in several authorized social movements, caring for brothers and sisters who were in the front lines. My sermons have always been connected to the times we live in, therefore my sermons at times involve social events, and real-life examples were mentioned to make a comparison. […] In recent years, these messages concern quite a lot of social issues. Given that Hong Kong today criminalizes you with your speech, for the sake of being able to speak boldly, my safety, and the ability to continue my ministry, I have decided to leave the place where I was raised and grew up.
Seeing that China has increased its crackdown against churches, especially before CCP’s 100th birthday, ICC asked these pastors if they are concerned about the future direction of the Hong Kong Church.
Pastor Simon*, who remains in Hong Kong, firmly believes that the government will undoubtedly increase its control of churches. His comment is echoed by Rev. Lo, who also believes the Church will become a target of oppression.
Rev. Lo said, “Because the relations between the Church and the government is complex. I am concerned that churches will be forced to compromise, or they either lean closer to the government for their survival or withdraw further from the society.”
Pastor Eugene is also concerned about the future development of the Church, since the government is fearful of the crowd’s strength, and the Church is able to gather people and has a great influence. “If you look at the churches in China, you will see many churches being cracked down, regulated, or forced to submit. I fear that these situations might soon appear in Hong Kong,” he said.
It is easy for the government to deal with the Church. Under the “taking measure according to the law” principle, they can easily tighten regulations to affect churches. Many churches are operating or gathering at schools, social service agencies, or inside commercial buildings. Suppose the government were to regulate the purpose of these venues and ban religious activities from taking place, forcing the commercial buildings to stop renting to churches. In that case, many churches would have no place to worship.
Similar methods have already been applied to the companies, restaurants, commercial facilities, and organizations deemed not supportive of the government. As a result, he believes the Church will increasingly face more pressure and challenges.
A Methodist Pastor in Hong Kong, on the other hand, has a different opinion. Pastor Ben* thinks that for now, Beijing and the Hong Kong government will first target those who are obviously anti-government. As long as the churches in Hong Kong are not doing things that are anti-government, only focusing their ministry on evangelism and social care, he believes that both governments will tolerate and not interfere.
“Certainly, this does not mean that these governments will ignore the Church. In fact, Hong Kong churches own many schools and even use their school facilities for worship. Hong Kong churches are also in charge of many social services. At the moment, the SAR government is modifying the schools’ curriculum while monitoring if any social service providers sponsored by the government violate the NSL. In reality, these Christian schools and social service agencies are already watched by the government,” he added. Thanks to the NSL, the churches are increasingly self-limiting. They will not comment on the government’s actions unless it is necessary.
*Name changed for security reasons.
To be continued.
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