Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, warned that new security laws imposed by China on the autonomous province can lead to a clamp down on religious freedom.
In a video posted on social media on Tuesday, June 30, the retired prelate said he had “no confidence” in religious freedom protections in the new security law.
China’s parliament passed a national security legislation for Hong Kong on June 30, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony’s way of life.
A week before the full provisions of the new security law was released, Cardinal Tong Hon, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Hong Kong, voiced his support for the proposed law.
“I personally believe that the National Security Law will have no effect on religious freedom,” he said in an interview with a diocesan newspaper.
Cardinal Tong said Article 32 of the Basic Law “guarantees that we have freedom of religion.”
“We can also openly preach and hold religious ceremonies, and participate in religious activities,” he added.
Cardinal Zen said that although he finds it “wrong” to agree even before the full details of the law was revealed, he understands the position of Cardinal Tong.
“It will be a lot of trouble if we don’t support the government,” said Cardinal Zen. “We never know what they will do to our Church,” he said.
“Even His Eminence Cardinal Tong will agree (that) there is no true religious freedom [in the mainland], yet the government denies this fact,” added the retired prelate.
He said that religious freedom means that the affairs of the Church “are handled by ourselves without the need to involve the government.”
He also called out the Vatican for “remaining silent” on the situation, noting that the Holy See might still be hoping to establish diplomatic relations with China.
The bishop emeritus said dealing with China is “not a worthy deal” as the communist country sees “no true religious freedom.”
UK-based rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide said members of Hong Kong’s Christian community have opposed the law as have local Falun Gong practitioners who have expressed fears that it will be the end of freedom of speech and freedom of belief in the city.
“The Chinese government is responsible for some of most serious human rights violations in the world today,” said CSW’s chief executive Mervyn Thomas.
CWS added that on mainland China, religious leaders and lawyers who defend freedom of religion or belief have been charged under similar terms as in the new law such as “inciting to subvert state power,” including Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Church.
The Christian rights group also said that “national security” has long been used as a pretext for heavy restrictions on ethnic and religious minorities such as Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists.
Police have banned this year’s July 1 rally on the anniversary of the 1997 handover, citing coronavirus restrictions.
It is unclear if attending the rally would constitute a national security crime with the enforcement of the law
Chinese President Xi Jinping had signed the controversial security law on June 30, 2020, and has been added to Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the 50-year mini-constitution agreed when the territory’s sovereignty was returned to China by in 1997.