Jonah McKeown reports for the Catholic Herald /CNA — A Catholic lawyer says his arrest last Saturday is part of mainland China’s wide-ranging efforts to tighten control over Hong Kong.
His ordeal follows his participation in months of pro-democracy protests on the island, which have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Hong Kong police arrested 81-year-old Martin Lee, along with 14 other pro-democracy protestors, on April 18. Lee has been demonstrating for universal suffrage in Hong Kong for nearly 40 years, and this is his first arrest, the Washington Post reports.
CNA spoke with one of Lee’s close friends, who said Lee and those arrested with him are currently bailed out of prison, and are safe.
Lee, the founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, wrote in an April 21 column in the Washington Post that he was arrested for taking part in protests last year against an extradition bill— now withdrawn— which would have allowed the Chinese government to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong to the mainland to stand trial.
Hong Kong is currently facing two plagues from China, Lee wrote: the coronavirus (COVID-19) and “attacks on our most basic human rights.”
“We can all hope a vaccine is soon developed for the coronavirus. But once Hong Kong’s human rights and rule of law are rolled back, the fatal virus of authoritarian rule will be here to stay,” Lee wrote.
He said that the free press in Hong Kong was vital for alerting the world to the dangers of the coronavirus, even as Chinese state media sought to repress information about the outbreak.
Now, Chinese authorities are attempting to pass legislation to increase their influence over Hong Kong, Lee said.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers enjoy freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.
In January, China appointed Luo Huining as the head of the powerful Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Luo last week intensified calls for Communist China to exercise more control in Hong Kong by passing “national security legislation.”
The legislation would outlaw “sedition, subversion and the theft of state secrets,” Lee wrote.
This is not the first time the legislation has been introduced— in 2003, widespread protests against the measure led China to withdraw it.
The passing of such a “subversion” law would give China even more power to quash Hong Kongers’ freedoms, Lee warned.
“These vague standards are designed to protect the Chinese Communist Party and undermine core freedoms of Hong Kong, such as freedoms of religion, assembly and the press — including the reporting of pandemics that embarrass Beijing,” he wrote.
The Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong released a statement condemning the arrests April 18, calling for an end to all arrests until an independent commission can be established, and for the police to return the mobile phones of all arrested persons in order to ensure their privacy.
The diocese also reiterated that the government must respond to the demands for which the pro-democracy demonstrators have been calling for months, which include an independent inquiry into police tactics.
A Hong Kong friend of Lee, who declined to be identified for safety, said they believe Sun Li Jun— the deputy public security minister for Hong Kong who oversees the Chinese secret police— wanted to send a message of power ahead of Chinese Workers’ Day celebration on May 1.
The friend believes Sun— who is reportedly under investigation by China for corruption— ordered the arrests to show that the authorities have control of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
“As the followers of God, we will keep praying for [Hong Kong] and let our Lord lead the way,” Lee’s friend told CNA.
“In HK we all love China and Chinese people but we are against CCP [Chinese Communist Party] for what they did to all of us now and before.”
An estimated 1 million protesters turned out at the first major pro-democracy demonstration in Hong Kong on June 6, 2019.
Catholics have played a major role in the protests, which continued after the extradition bill was revoked. Protestors largely called for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam— herself a Catholic— more open elections in the region, and an investigation into police brutality allegations.
In October, the legislature of Hong Kong completed the process of officially withdrawing the controversial extradition bill.
“Had the extradition bill been passed, we could have faced trial already in China instead of Hong Kong,” Lee noted in his column.
The impetus for the bill was a case involving a young Hong Kong man whom Taiwan requested be extradited for an alleged murder. Hong Kong previously has no formal extradition agreements with mainland China or Taiwan.
Christians and advocates widely opposed the bill, fearing that the Chinese government, which already seeks to control and suppress Christianity on the mainland, would use it to further tighten its grip on free exercise of religion in Hong Kong.