Religious Groups Fear Crackdown After Raid on Hong Kong Protest Church

2020-12-09
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Religious Groups Fear Crackdown After Raid on Hong Kong Protest Church Pastor Roy Chan of Hong Kong's Good Neighbour Church is shown in a Jan. 9, 2020 photo.
AFP


Hong Kong religious groups, seen by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as hotbeds of foreign influence, are now in danger of being targeted for political reasons under China's draconian national security law, Christian community leaders warned on Wednesday.

Rev. Wu Chi Wai, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, said religious groups are now being targeted by police using vague definitions of "money-laundering" under clauses in the national security law banning "collusion with foreign powers."

"The wording of the national security law is ambiguous, which means that churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, are now open to accusations of colluding with foreign powers," Wu told RFA.

Wu said overseas donations and the hosting of conferences with overseas church groups could leave religious groups open to investigation for "money-laundering" if funds hadn't been clearly earmarked for a specific purpose.

"The police can demand to see church accounts and raid the premises to gather evidence [under the law]," he said.

The issue made headlines this week after a church whose middle-aged and elderly members formed a group called "Safeguard Defenders" to protect young protesters from police violence during last year's protest movement had its bank accounts frozen, its premises raided, and two of its members arrested.

Police claimed that the church raised H.K.$27 million through a number of crowd-funding drives between June last year and September this year, but publicly stated that they raised less than a third of this amount.

One of its pastors, Roy Chan, has fled Hong Kong for the U.K., saying he and his wife won't be able to return. He said the freezing of the church's assets had cut off funding to its homeless hostels and other pastoral services for the vulnerable.

The church said the move was political retaliation for the church's role in last year's protests.

The announcement came after HSBC froze the bank accounts of exiled former Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui after he fled to Europe.

A warning to churches

Wu said the targeting of the Good Neighbour Church had sent shock waves through Hong Kong's religious communities, and was likely intended as a warning to churches that they could be next.

Rev. Yuen Tin-Yau, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Christian Council, said churches in Hong Kong typically register as corporations, as that is the only route available to civil society groups including political parties, before gaining charitable status from the tax authorities, which requires them to submit audited accounts.

He said donations were never among the income streams requiring itemization.

"I do not understand the rationale for the police seizure of ... assets, and I think the government should give us a clear explanation, or this will inevitably be seen as a form of political retaliation," Yuen told RFA.

"It is no surprise that the Good Neighbour Church was a high-profile participant in the anti-extradition movement [last year]," he said. "So this could be considered political retaliation."

"Does this mean that more churches will be targeted for political suppression in future?" he asked.

'Deeply concerned' about arrests

In the U.S., president-elect Joe Biden's incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he is "deeply concerned" about a string of recent arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

"We stand united with our allies and partners against China's assault on Hong Kong's freedoms -- and to help those persecuted find safe haven," Sullivan wrote on his Twitter account.

Hong Kong police on Tuesday charged eight pro-democracy activists, including three former democratic camp lawmakers, in connection with protests against a draconian national security law imposed on the city since July 1.

Elected district councilors Andy Chui and Lancelot Chan and former Legislative Council (LegCo) members Eddie Chu, Wu Chi-Wai, and Leung Kwok-hung were among those charged with "inciting others to take part in an illegal assembly," in connection with the protest.

Others face charges of "holding or organizing an illegal assembly" and "knowingly taking part in an illegal assembly" on June 30 and July 1.

Despite promises made by Beijing to preserve Hong Kong's traditional freedoms after the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, the national security law criminalizes speech that is critical of the Hong Kong authorities or the CCP, and sparked mass protests across Hong Kong on the day that it took effect.

Arrests linked to sanctions

The timing of arrests and charges against pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong appears closely linked to escalations in U.S. sanctions on Hong Kong and CCP officials in recent weeks.

Police in Hong Kong arrested 16 pro-democracy activists and protesters on Aug. 26, following the initial round of U.S. sanctions that included Lam and Beijing's Hong Kong envoy Luo Huining on Aug. 7.

A second round of arrests and charges followed the announcement of further sanctions by the U.S. targeting high-ranking Hong Kong-linked Chinese officials on Nov. 10.

The U.S. Treasury this week added the names of 14 high-ranking members of China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee to its list of sanctioned individuals linked to curbing human rights and civil liberties in Hong Kong.

The NPC standing committee voted unanimously to adopt the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

Sanctioned individuals and their immediate family members are barred from traveling to the United States, while their assets within the jurisdiction of the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons will be blocked and U.S. persons or companies with branches in the U.S. are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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