Freedom of religion is “deteriorating” in Hong Kong, and the United States — along with other democracies — should use its influence to promote religious liberty in the region, a new report on communist Chinese persecution in the city said.
The Chinese government is now tightening its grip on the region of over 7 million residents, said the Jan. 30 report, called “Hostile Takeover: The CCP and Hong Kong’s Religious Communities.”
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Its citizens have historically enjoyed freedom of worship, while in mainland China there is a long history of persecution against Christians who defy the communist government.
With the passage of a new security law in 2020, the Chinese government gained more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which the regime viewed as a direct threat to its power.
There are several Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiatives that indicate the party wants to take away Hong Kongers’ freedom of religion, according to the report, which was published by the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation.
In the “2021 Mainland Chinese Bluebook,” which “stresses the strategic and geopolitical importance of Hong Kong’s religions for China,” the report said Christians, and Catholics in particular, have been targeted.
In the document, Christian groups are accused of encouraging students to participate in “violent protests” and collude with “foreign organizations,” according to the report.
The party’s “bluebook” also said Hong Kong’s Catholics are more politically involved than other Christians, the report said.
The religious freedom report said there is evidence that the Chinese Communist Party has sought to enculturate its values into the nation’s faith traditions.
The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has held at least three seminars on the “sinicization of religion,” the report said. Additionally, the diocese ordered all of its priests, seminarians, and women religious to visit the Chinese capital of Beijing, the report said.
“All the trips and discussions have omitted the ‘underground’ church and the persecuted faithful in mainland China,” the report said. The “underground” Church refers to Chinese Catholics loyal to the pope over the government.
The Chinese national flag is required to be displayed in faith-based schools “beside sacred symbols,” the report said.
The report also said that certain student textbooks in Hong Kong’s school system contain “prayers” praising China and Chinese identity, adding that teachers are required to integrate “national security education and patriotic and socialist values into the curriculum.”
There is an increase in the number of “pro-Beijing teachers and principals” in religious schools, the report said. Those schools have “sister schools” in mainland China, which has led to “more engagements with external pro-Beijing organizations on campus.”
The report said that Hong Kong’s Catholic Church is “suppressing” information on religious persecution in the mainland and has “diluted its focus on advocating the rights of the faithful in China.”
The report mentioned the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong’s removal of a 2021 interview it posted on its Facebook page of a priest, Father Vincent Woo, telling EWTN that the CCP is using “reeducation” and propaganda to suppress religious freedom in the mainland.
The page administrator resigned after the removal and no other diocesan-run paper publicized the interview, according to the report.
The report also pointed to Hong Kong’s National Security Law imposed by the CCP in 2020, which gives broad power to both governments to crack down on what would be considered First Amendment freedoms in America.
The report said the National Security Law was used in 2022 to arrest and imprison Protestant pastor Gary Pang Moon-yuen, who “allegedly” interrupted the trial of Chow Hang-tung, a protester who commemorated the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
The Tiananmen crackdown was the government’s violent suppression of protests in 1989 of peaceful protests calling for political and economic reform.
The pastor, Moon-yuen, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for sedition and seditious speech on Oct. 30, 2022, the report said.
The report calls on the U.S., “together with other democracies,” to act.
It calls on U.S. lawmakers to support two bills, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, to deter religious freedom violators in the region. Those bills would require the State Department to periodically review the state of human rights in Hong Kong to determine whether it is truly separate from China. The proposed legislation would also place sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who violate the region’s autonomy.
The democracies should hold hearings on the CCP’s religious freedom violations in Hong Kong and abroad, the report said. They should also “[d]iscourage the Vatican from extending to Hong Kong the secret deal made with Beijing.” The controversial deal made in 2018 is a confidential agreement between China and Rome on the appointment of bishops.
The full report can be read here.