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Religious groups call for amnesty for Hong Kongers charged under national security law

The petition by more than a dozen Christian and
Catholic groups and leaders was handed to a government representative outside
Hong Kong’s government headquarters.

“She could be active in asking Beijing (for an
amnesty),” said Catholic priest Franco Mella, referring to Hong Kong’s
leader Carrie Lam, who is a devout Catholic.

“Let’s hope she gives an answer to the voice of
her conscience as a Catholic,” Mella said, flanked by Reverend Chi Wood
Fung, a Hong Kong Anglican priest and former lawmaker. “I hope more voices
can be heard about the possibility of an amnesty for them.”

Lam’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters
request for comment.

Among the signatories was Reverend Alan Smith of St
Albans in the UK and the former Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland, Lord Eames.
Mella said he hoped the Pope would “join his voice” in speaking out
on rights issues in Hong Kong.

China imposed a sweeping national security law in June
2020 outlawing subversion, collusion with foreign forces, terrorism and
secession with possible life imprisonment. More than 160 people have been
arrested under the legislation.

Some Western governments and rights groups say
authorities are using the law to silence dissent and curb freedoms.

Chinese and Hong Kong authorities, however, say the
law has brought stability to the financial hub after protracted pro-democracy
protests in 2019.

Among the most prominent national security law
defendants are 47 pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers arrested in a
mass raid in early 2021, as well as former media tycoon and China critic Lai.

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Although some of Hong Kong’s government and commercial
elites are Catholic and pro-Beijing, including Lam, other Catholics have long
been active in the pro-democracy and anti-government movements including Lai
and former law professor Benny Tai.

Some observers see Hong Kong’s broad religious
freedoms and traditions, like the rule of law, as one of the remaining
strongholds of the “one country, two systems” model under which
Britain handed its former colony back to Chinese rule in 1997.

The Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs
“one country, two systems”, explicitly provides for freedom of conscience
and broad religious freedom.

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