Hong Kong Protests 2: An interview with a Chinese human rights advocate

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 Now that the bill has been officially withdrawn, why are people still protesting?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.

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Quick read: Hong Kong protests – an interview with a Chinese pastor

In recent weeks Hong Kong has seen unprecedented protests in which over one million demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest a controversial extradition bill that would allow the extradition of suspected criminals to Mainland China. On 9 July the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, declared that the bill was ‘dead,’ however some protesters remain concerned that the bill is still on the official agenda and has not been formally withdrawn.

Near the beginning of the protests CSW spoke with a Chinese pastor who explained the main concerns regarding the bill, and what the bill may indicate about the general direction for freedom of religion or belief in Hong Kong.

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China: Lili’s Story

Religious groups in China are currently experiencing what has been referred to as the most severe crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution. This is a composite account constructed from real stories of Christians in China. Similar things have happened, but we have changed the details.

“Today it finally happened. As soon as I entered the lecture hall and sat down, I could feel the professor’s eyes on me. After class started she didn’t give me a second glance, but even so, when she called my name and told me to stay behind afterwards, I wasn’t surprised. I guess I’ve been expecting this for a while.

“I need to talk to you about your Bible study group”, she said.

Actually, it’s more like a discussion group. We read a passage from the Bible, and then we talk about its meaning and what we think it means for our own lives. Sometimes we talk about social issues as well, it just comes naturally. But there would be no point explaining all this to my professor. It would only make things worse.

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‘Faithful disobedience’ in the face of a relentless crackdown: one year since China’s Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.

Over the past year, the Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on Christians and other religious groups across China.

The mass incarceration of over one million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups in ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang since 2017 has alarmed the international community, with the detentions receiving UN condemnation. At the same time, Christians across China are also being relentlessly targeted by the Chinese state apparatus, with countless violations ranging from the arrest and torture of religious practitioners to the forced closure of places of worship remaining a daily reality for those peacefully exercising their universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).

Since the revised regulations on religious affairs came into effect on 1 February 2018, reports have emerged of the removal of over 7,000 crosses in Henan province alone. Christians in Henan have also reported that unregistered churches across the province have been forcibly shuttered by authorities. Outside of Henan, in the wake of the revised regulations authorities across China continue to harass worshippers and restrict religious observance at state-approved churches by removing religious symbols from buildings, banning under-18s from religious activities, and forcing churches to install cameras and sing pro-Communist songs.

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China’s Crackdown on Religion

“My family, relatives, friends and dozens of innocent people [I know] have been arrested since April 2017. I have no knowledge of how many more of our relatives have been arrested as we lost contact with them at the beginning of the year. They have not committed any crime… They are ordinary people… since then I have not heard from them and I am unsure about their safety.”

– Chinese Uyghur living overseas.

Faith groups in China are currently experiencing the most severe crackdown on religious freedom and human rights in decades. One of the worst sites of this crackdown is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where recent reports estimate that as many as three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups have been detained in political re-education camps without charge.

Ethnicity appears to be the principle driver of these detentions, however there is also a significant religious element. The majority of detainees are Muslim, and reasons for detention – when a reason is given – have often been connected to the practice of peaceful religious activities such as participating in communal religious services or accessing religious materials online.

The religious element is further demonstrated by the treatment of Muslims inside the camps. Witnesses report that detainees have been forced to renounce Islam and promise not to follow religion. Prisoners have also been forced to eat pork or drink alcohol, which goes against their religious beliefs.

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