Hong Kong, China, Jun 17, 2019 / 03:52 pm (CNA).- Though a proposed change to extradition laws in Hong Kong is on hold for now, Christian leaders and advocacy groups are continuing to speak out, warning that under the proposal those in Hong Kong who support Chinese Christians could be unjustly brought to mainland China for trial.
“If the extradition law is passed, it is a death sentence for Hong Kong,” Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller imprisoned for eight months by the Chinese for selling books critical of the government, told ucanews.com.
“Beijing will use this law to control Hong Kong completely. Freedom of speech will be lost. In the past, the regime kidnapped its critics, like me, illegally. With this law, they will abduct their critics legally,” Lam continued.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, had introduced a bill that would allow for secret arrests and extraditions to mainland China, where communist courts would try alleged criminals.
The bill was suspended June 15.
The issue of extradition has been a contentious one in the region for a number of years, as Hong Kong has no formal extradition deal with Taiwan, Macao, and mainland China, potentially creating legal loopholes in some circumstances.
Still, advocacy groups expressed worry that the law could endanger the freedom that Christians in Hong Kong currently enjoy.
“If the latest legislation was successful, those seeking refuge and freedom of conscience in Hong Kong could face extradition back to the mainland,” International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, said June 17.
ICC cited Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who expressed concern that the bill could be used to persecute Christians that the Chinese government considers dissidents.
Although the proposed law says that alleged criminals would not be handed over for religious reasons, Ying said this is a practice which the Chinese government has a track record of doing by accusing “dissidents” of economic crimes.
Hongkongers currently have significantly more freedoms than Chinese living on the mainland, including access to uncensored internet. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, allowing it its own legislature and economic system.
The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.
If the extradition law took effect, any Hong Kong Christian in support of underground Churches could be accused of committing economic crimes, ICC states.
Not all Christian groups oppose the legislation, however; Peter Douglas Koon, the Anglican provincial secretary-general of Hong Kong, supports the change, and the Anglican Church in Hong Kong has stated its position as being that offenders must be brought to justice by whatever means necessary, LaCroix International reports.
Edwin Chow, acting president of The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, echoed the ICC’s fear that the legal change could be used to bring Christians to China on economic or business charges.
“There have been cases when Hong Kong people were charged with smuggling when they transferred Bibles to mainland China. I am afraid it will affect the communication between the churches on both sides. That’s why I am against the amendment,” Chow told ucanews.com.
Catholic leaders are speaking out in support of the protestors and calling for peace and dialogue. Hundreds of thousands of protestors are still out in force as of yesterday.
“They are protesting an issue about an extradition rule promoted by the government,” Cardinal John Tong Hon, Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, told Vatican Radio.
“This is our concern too…we ask our Catholics to pray for this situation.”
Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, held a Mass and prayer service on Sunday to pray for “the future of [Hong Kong].” He also posted a photo to Facebook yesterday of himself on stage with several protestors, with the caption “Hong Kong people, come on! Courage and force… Hong Kongers #withdrawextradictionbill.”
In addition, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong took part in an ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after the latest rally on Sunday, The Union of Catholic Asian News reported.