The Rev. Jonathan Aitken, a former U.K. Cabinet minister, said religious freedom in Hong Kong faces dangerous threats from the Chinese Communist Party.
Rev. Aitken, 79, ordained an Anglican priest in 2019, warned "there are increasingly ominous signs" that religious freedom in Hong Kong is "next on the hit list by the destructive forces" of Chinese President Xi Jinping's regime, reported ucanews.com.
The former lawmaker, who served as a Cabinet member from 1995 to 1997, made the comments during an address to the National Club in London June 29, two days before the 25th anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong to China.
Rev. Aitken said "the skies are darkening for religious freedom in Hong Kong." He said the imposition of the draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong two years ago has led to promised fundamental freedoms being "almost completely dismantled."
The rule of law, he added, "has been undermined and any meaningful autonomy has been eroded." Many former legislators are in prison, press freedom has been destroyed and academic freedom and freedom of expression "brutally curtailed."
The priest noted that Hong Kong was handed over to China with "solemn promises" made by Beijing to protect Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, freedom and the rule of law, enshrined in an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, lodged at the United Nations.
"Today, a quarter of a century on from the handover, the whole world came to see that the Chinese Communist regime has systematically broken those promises and violated the treaty," said Rev. Aitken.
Calling Xi "ideologically a Marxist nationalist and politically a brutal control freak," Rev. Aitken said Xi is dedicated to ensuring that the Communist Party maintains its iron grip on power.
"He is ruthless in his silencing of all who exercise their freedom of expression to voice, let alone demonstrate in support of views different from that of the regime."
The priest said Xi and his regime are particularly hostile to faith groups, ucanews.com reported.
Christians in mainland China now face the worst persecution since Mao's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, Rev. Aitken said, adding that persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Hui Muslims has intensified. Earlier in June, domes and minarets of a mosque in Zhaotong, China, were blown up.
He also pointed out that China's brutal persecution of Uyghurs is increasingly being recognized by international critics as genocide.
Xi and his regime are behaving like "tough totalitarian thugs" toward faith groups and beleaguered groups in China who seek any degree of personal freedom, he said, noting that this totalitarian approach has engulfed Hong Kong in recent years.
Freedom of religion or belief, enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is likely to be "the next freedom cherished by the people of Hong Kong to come under fire," he said.
Pro-Beijing media such as Ta Kung Paohave been publishing articles attacking churches in Hong Kong and threatening further restrictions, Rev. Aitken said. One church, the Good Neighbor North District Church, has been raided by police, and the bank account of the church and its pastor were frozen by HSBC under pressure from Chinese authorities.
Soon after the introduction of the National Security Law, Cardinal John Tong Hon issued a warning to Catholic clergy to be careful in sermons and to "watch their language."
In May this year, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun was arrested, which Rev. Aitken described as "a symbol of the regime's anti-faith attitudes, not to mention Beijing's total disrespect for a venerated 90-year-old spiritual leader."