Following a massive protest by 500,000 people on July 1, Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa agreed to delay implementing Article 23, a controversial antisedition bill. Christians were critical of the bill and organized rallies against the measure. One Christian-organized demonstration on July 13 drew an estimated 15,000 people.
Religious liberty advocates have blasted a provision that would automatically ban groups in Hong Kong currently outlawed on the mainland. These groups include unofficial house churches, Roman Catholic entities, and the controversial Falun Gong sect.
Christians, who constitute about 10 percent of the autonomous region's 6.9 million people, have links to unofficial house churches on the mainland and to many foreign groups. They fear such ties could make them criminals under Article 23. Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Zen is a leading Christian critic of the bill, calling it "very dangerous."
"I surely do not expect persecution of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong tomorrow or in two years' time," he said. "But it becomes possible."
After the protests, Tung removed or weakened three controversial provisions in Article 23: police searches without a warrant, bans of groups already outlawed on the mainland, and penalties for "theft of state secrets." Then on July 23 Hong Kong's government said it would resume public consultation on the bill this month.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today previously covered Article 23 in:
Under Suspicion | Hong Kong's Christians fear antisedition measures will curb religious liberty. (Feb. 21, 2003)
Recent coverage includes:
HK to conduct another consultation on Article 23 legislation work next month—People's Daily (August 19, 2003)
China may use law to hinder Taiwan agencies—Taipei Times (Aug. 9, 2003)
Too soon to celebrate in Hong Kong—Business Week (July 22, 2003)
Christianity Today last year looked at: "What is the Falun Gong? | And why does the Chinese government want to destroy it?"
The 2002 International Religious Freedom Report on China says, "The Government tries to control and regulate religious groups to prevent the rise of groups that could constitute sources of authority outside of the control of the Government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and it cracks down on groups that it perceives to pose a threat. Despite these efforts at government control, membership in many faiths is growing rapidly."
Last year, Tony Carnes wrote a Christianity Today cover story on persecution in China. Articles included:
'New' China: Same Old Tricks | Top communists, despite their denials, endorse arrest and torture of Chinese Christians by the thousands. (Feb. 15, 2002)
The Unlikely Activist | How a bitter athiest helped besieged Christians—and became a believer. (Feb. 15, 2002)
What China's Secret Documents Reveal | The New York archive of religious persecution in China contains numerous government documents that show how the government controls religion. (Feb. 15, 2002)
China Persecution Dossier: Zhang Wu-Ji | Tortured to the point of death. (Feb. 15, 2002)
China Persecution Dossier: Shi Yun-Chao | Beaten for Hosting Bible Studies. (Feb. 15, 2002)
China Persecution Dossier: Gu Xiangmei | Surviving on "tiger's diarrhea."(Feb. 15, 2002)
See Christianity Today'sBearing the Cross article on the persecution of Christians in China.
Previous Christianity Today stories about religion in China and Hong Kong include:
Inside CT: Chinese Puzzle | Things are changing for China's church. (March 7, 2003)
Working with the Communists | Some evangelicals minister happily within China's state-supervised Three Self church. (Oct. 18, 2002)
Bush: 'I'm One of Them' | Religious persecution allegations set the stage for George Bush's visit to China. (Feb. 27, 2002)
What is the Falun Gong? | And why does the Chinese government want to destroy it? (Feb. 6, 2002)
Gong's 'Accusers' Claim Torture Induced False Confessions | Letters from imprisoned Christian women in China describe assaults with electric clubs. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Free China's Church | The Communist country may ease some religious restrictions, but they still want an apolitical church. (January 3, 2002)
Church Leader Gets Reprieve | China's case against Gong Shengliang now on hold. (Jan. 24, 2002)
Chinese House Church Leader Granted Time to Appeal Death Sentence | Sentence likely to be commuted to imprisonment, but church remains in danger. (Jan. 8, 2002)
Communists May Recognize Independent Christians | Communist leaders in China are preparing to give formal recognition to unregistered religious groups, but house-church leaders are wary. (November 19, 2001)
Changes in China's Religious Policy Imminent? | Several respected house-church leaders consulted about official registration. (November 16, 2001)
Hong Kong Church Leaders Fear Anti-Sect Bill | French legislation may have worldwide consequences. (July 3, 2001)
House Churches May Be 'Harmful to Society' | But China's unofficial congregations resist "evil cult" label. (Jan. 25, 2001)
China's Religious Freedom Crackdown Extends to Foreigners | It is against the law for visitors to teach the Bible in China's house churches. (Nov. 13, 2000)
China's Smack Down | 53 Christian professors, students, and church-planters detained. (Sept. 11, 2000)
House Approves Divisive U.S.-China Trade Pact | But will permanent normal trade relations status help human rights? (May 25, 2000)
China Should Improve on Religion to Gain Permanent Trade Status, Commission Says | Religious liberty in Sudan and Russia also criticized. (May 8, 2000)
A Tale of China's Two Churches | Eyewitness reports of repression and revival. (July 13, 1998)
FreeChurchForChina.org is a non-profit advocacy group for religious freedom.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.