Even before its former senior cleric was arrested this week, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong had been concerned about the impact of China’s sweeping national security law.
Local Catholic leaders recently decided to cancel an annual commemoration of China’s bloody 1989 crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square, according to church insiders, for fear of breaking laws imposed by Beijing two years ago.
The cancellation of a June 4 commemorative mass this year underscores the chilling effect that Hong Kong’s growing political repression has had even within religious groups.
But the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen on Wednesday comes just days after hardline and former security chief John Lee, himself a Catholic, was confirmed as the next leader. The city sparked a new shock.
It could also exacerbate divisions within the Catholic Church over how to deal with the growing political repression in Hong Kong.
Police charged Zen with collusion with foreign powers, an offence under the 2020 Security Act. The 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong, an outspoken human rights activist, was arrested along with four other trustees of a fund to help pay for the legal and medical treatment of participants in pro-democracy demonstrations across the city in 2019. cost.
Catholics in Hong Kong are deeply saddened by the attack on the cardinal, who was released on bail on Wednesday night, priests and senior laypeople said.
“When he was arrested, I was really shocked . . . I think there will be more repression of the church in Hong Kong in the future,” said one who, like other church insiders, declined to be named for fear of being hit by the city government. Impact.
For more than two decades, the Hong Kong church has been commemorating the June 4, 1989 crackdown by Chinese troops of student-led protests centered on Tiananmen Square. But last year, Hong Kong police officers were seen standing outside the church door with cameras in hand.
“It’s not a safe time for us to hold Mass in public,” said one person involved in canceling this year’s commemorations. “We have security concerns because of the growing political tensions.”
This year, said a priest, “we will not mention June 4th. But it will be in our hearts”.
Hong Kong’s outgoing chief executive, Carrie Lam, is a Catholic and her successor, Lee Kuan Yew, said last week that he still believed in the teachings he received as a child at a Jesuit school in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
But when asked by the Financial Times about the arrests, which have been condemned by human rights groups and governments including the US, Canada and the UK, Lee made it clear that Catholic credentials would not protect those accused of breaching security laws. people. “Regardless of the person’s background, actions will be taken accordingly,” Lee said.
It was Lee who oversaw the introduction of the law when he was former security minister.this Beijing-backed ex-cop Officially confirmed on Sunday as Hong Kong’s next leader, he will be sworn in on July 1.
“[Zen’s arrest] Even religious leaders have warned. . . are not immune from legal punishment just because of their status,” said Liu Zhaojia of the China Hong Kong and Macau Research Association, a think tank in Beijing.
The Hong Kong church expressed “extreme concern”. “We urge the Hong Kong police and judicial authorities to handle Card Chen’s case in accordance with the law,” the city’s diocese said. “We have always upheld the rule of law. We believe that we will continue to enjoy religious freedom in Hong Kong in the future.”
The current bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, who was appointed last year, has not spoken publicly about the national security law.
However, Cardinal’s arrest could expand The schism in the Hong Kong church Between people like Zen and other pro-democracy activists who support the government or think the church should not be involved in politics.
Pro-democracy activists accuse the church of siding with the latter camp, with many citing Diplomatic Agreement In 2018, the Vatican gave Beijing a say in appointing Chinese bishops.
In the most recent incident, on April 27, a parish administrator resigned over a post on the Catholic Way Facebook page. The post, which was quickly deleted, summarized a TV interview in which a local priest accused China of trying to control religion. at Hong Kong. The diocese said the administrator resigned voluntarily.
The police investigation into the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund could also have implications for Hong Kong’s legal system.
Police said on Thursday they had lodged a complaint with the Bar and the Bar over alleged misconduct by an unnamed lawyer who took on the fund’s case.
“The criminal investigation also revealed that a number of lawyers and barristers were suspected of professional misconduct in providing legal services,” police said.
“It is clear [the authorities] Lawyers who support political prisoners in Hong Kong have been targeted,” said Eric Yan-ho Lai of the Georgetown Asian Legal Center. “Legal representatives should not be intimidated by the people they represent. “
A Hong Kong priest said that no area of life in the city could escape the tightened political control.
“If you ask whether [local] The priest is more worried about Anfa now. . . I will tell you that everyone in Hong Kong cares about the law,” he said.