Since June 2019, Hong Kong has seen unprecedented protests in which millions of citizens have taken to the streets calling for democracy and respect for human rights. Despite a repressive and violent government response, demonstrations remain ongoing seven months later.
CSW recently spoke to a Chinese human rights advocate, who shared his views on the current situation and what may lie ahead for Hong Kong.
The protests began in response to a proposed extradition bill. Now that the bill has been officially withdrawn, why are people still protesting?
The withdrawal of the extradition bill is just one of the Hong Kong protesters’ five demands, so the protests continue. They also want to be able to vote for their own leader, and for there to be an independent investigation committee to look into violations by the police. These things are also very important to the protesters, so just withdrawing the law couldn’t satisfy the public.
How have religious groups in Hong Kong responded to the continued protests?
Most religious groups, including the Catholic and Protestant communities, have been very supportive to the protesters and very active. I have been touched by some of the video clips which have emerged. One scenario was of a group of Christians who joined the protesters on the streets but instead of yelling slogans, they just stood with them singing a peaceful song of praise to their God and bringing peace to the participants. This was a sort of gesture to the protesters – “We are standing with you, even though we are not politically driven, we will still support you.”
Have the police responded to religious groups violently in the same way as they have towards other protesters?
The police weren’t violent to these kinds of singing groups, but since many of the protesters are Christians, they have been suffering police violence.
Are there any specific concerns for religious freedom?
Because of the British colonisation, Hong Kong has this solid foundation of freedom of religion, so even though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been trying hard, there are still many independent Christian communities trying to express their independent views.
However, China has a long history of trying to buy off the Christian community, even before they took power in 1949 the communists convinced a lot of Christians to support them – to provide information, to provide medical assistance, to help them buy things from the outside world. So the Chinese Christian community has always been divided into two fronts; one with a pro-Beijing ideology, and another which is opposed to the control of the CCP over Hong Kong. Today, they are trying to use the same strategy to divide protesters in Hong Kong.
Even in different Western countries a lot of Chinese churches have been influenced by the Chinese authorities and policies, and a lot of them don’t want to touch on sensitive issues, like the Hong Kong issue and other human rights abuses, those kind of things.
What has been the effect of the local elections which took place in November? (in which pro-democracy candidates gained control of 17 of Hong Kong’s 18 seats)
Without the protests, the result would have been totally different. The pro-Beijing candidates would have won most of the seats, but over the past half-year, the people of Hong Kong people have been trying so hard and have really turned people’s minds. Nothing compares to this kind of shift which the protesters contributed to.
How should the international community respond?
The Hong Kong people have felt the strongest support from the United States, The Human Rights and Democracy Act encouraged them a lot, but at the UN level they have been pretty disappointed in the response. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, did make a statement calling for a peaceful resolution, but she didn’t acknowledge that all the violence was started by police in the first place and that the police or the Hong Kong authorities should take the blame rather than the protesters.
The people of Hong Kong want some form of independent international investigation looking into all the violence and cases. For instance, a lot of people have been disappeared without any reason and without a trace. People don’t trust the Hong Kong authorities any more, and there is no space for the CCP to do the job, so an international or UN-backed committee is needed to reveal the truth.
How can we pray for Hong Kong?
One thing we should pray for is solidarity among the protesters, because there is so much argument among themselves, so they can really fight for their freedom and democracy as one. The Christian community in Hong Kong is doing the same, they really want to bring people together, they don’t want people to be separated by different ideas or opinions.
Second, I would say to pray for the people of Hong Kong to have courage and peace, because this is going to be a long struggle, so pray that they won’t be worn out in this process.
And third, I would pray for international support which makes an impact. The international community should really support the struggle by advocating for the protesters at the international level, doing whatever they can to raise awareness in international arenas and support the Hong Kong people.
Hong Kong today really is the frontline of the fight for freedom and democracy, it’s not a random regional issue, it’s really a frontline – if people want stop the aggressive moves by the CCP then we need to start with Hong Kong.