Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has warned that new security laws in the province could lead to a clamp down on religious freedom.
In a series of videos posted Tuesday on the Facebook page “Catholics Concerned about the Hong Kong National Security Law Group,” Zen said that he had ‘no confidence” in religious freedom protections in the new security law.
On May 28, the Chinese legislature approved a resolution imposing “security laws” on Hong Kong. These laws aim to criminalize anything Beijing considers “foreign interference,” secessionist activities, or subversion of state power, and will permit Chinese security forces to operate in the city.
Although the full provisions of the law were only released on June 30, last week Cardinal John Tong Hon, Zen’s successor as bishop and currently the administrator of the diocese, publicly voiced support for the measures, and said that it was not a threat to religious freedom.
“I personally believe that the National Security Law will have no effect on religious freedom, because Article 32 of the Basic Law guarantees that we have freedom of religion, and we can also openly preach and hold religious ceremonies, and participate in religious activities,” Cardinal Tong Hon told the diocesan newspaper last week.
Zen said that he thought it was “wrong” that people were encouraged by the government to speak out in support of the law before the full details were unveiled, but acknowledged that his successor was in a “tricky” situation.
“On the one hand, it will be a lot of trouble if we don’t support the government. We never know what they will do to our Church,” said Zen. “On the other hand, [Tong] disappointed many within the Church by giving his support.”
The full terms of the law were released on the evening of June 30 shortly ahead of July 1, the anniversary of the handover of the area from Great Britain to China, traditionally a day of pro-democracy protest in the city.
Under the new law, a person who is convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence. The law’s broad definition of terrorism includes arson and vandalizing public transportation “with an intent to intimidate the Hong Kong government or Chinese government for political purposes.”
“This is not only against the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, but also the basic law [of Hong Kong],” Zen said of the new measures.
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