CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Call to safeguard religious freedom in Hong Kong and China

HONG KONG (SE): Christians in Hong Kong urged the Chinese Government to stop suppressing religious freedom during a prayer service outside the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, Western District, on the evening of April 30.
The gathering, organised by the Justice and Peace Commission, Christians for Hong Kong Society, the City Concern of Christian Fellowship Hong Kong, Hong Kong Christian Institute along with other Christian organisations, sought to demonstrate concern over the tightening of control on religious freedom after the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs was implemented in February this year. 
The groups expressed their worry that the stricter measures might be extended to Hong Kong given that the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, proposed setting up a religious affairs unit the during her election campaign in early 2017.
Or Yan Yan, spokesperson of the Justice and Peace Commission, said that Lam’s proposal to set up a religious affairs unit might have been a trail balloon to see if the religious freedom in Hong Kong could be controlled. 
She believes Lam pulled the idea from her manifesto due to the strong opposition from religious leaders and the general public at that time. 
In an online statement, signed by over 200 people, the Christian groups said that they were angered and saddened by the religious suppression suffered by the Christians in China, particularly in Henan province where the situation is specially serious as the crosses of Protestant and Catholic churches, as well as banners with religious messages are being taken down by force by the government. 
The statement also expressed shock at reports of government officials going to Christian homes to inform them that they are prohibited from having gatherings. 
People have reportedly been discouraged from exercising their faith through threats to deduct allowances for the aged. It also expressed concerns about the prohibition on minors entering churches or participating in religious activities starting this year.  (Sunday Examiner, April  29) 
The statement noted that the demolition of crosses and churches has become more widespread. Beginning in Zhejiang province in 2014, the problem has now spread to Jiangxi, Henan, Shanxi and Uygur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang. 
The Chinese government’s suppression of religious activities and prohibition of minors from having religious beliefs seriously violates the constitution and infringes on the right to religious freedom protected by international human rights covenants, the statement said.
The groups called on the Chinese government to immediately stop banning house Churches or unofficial Churches and to stop suppressing religious people; to protect the freedom of religion of minors; to stop demolishing crosses, churches or religious banners and to cease installing surveillance devices in religious venues and respect the freedom to sell the bible and other religious books.
The statement urged the government to release all priests arrested without charge, including Bishop James Sue Zhimin as well as Father Liu Honggeng of Baoding Diocese of Hebei province, and others. It called on the government to stop suppressing lawyers who protect the rights of the churches, such as Zhang Kai, a lawyer in Beijing defending churches with their crosses forcefully removed.
Or expressed concerns that the high-handed control being exerted on religion in mainland China is a sign that the proposal to set up a religious affairs unit in Hong Kong could re-emerge if people become numb to the deterioration of the human rights situation in Hong Kong. 
She urged people in the territory to remain alert. 

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