Editor’s Note: Hong Kong officials unanimously passed its own version of a national security law Tuesday that could put people found guilty of political crimes, such as treason or external interference, in prison for life.

Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, mandates the enactment of a national security law, which locals have protested in the past over fears that it could curtail freedoms. Now with a pro-Beijing parliament, the bill was passed at record speed.

John Lee, the city’s top leader, said the new law was needed to close gaps in the existing national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020. He hailed its passage as “a historic moment Hong Kong people have been waiting for over 26 years.”

A coalition of 77 international parliamentarians and public figures, including Hong Kong’s last British Gov. Chris Patten and US Sen. Marco Rubio, have issued a statement condemning the Article 23 legislation, calling it a “flagrant breach” of the Basic Law, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and international human rights law.

While many Hong Kongers have left the city, others, like Lo Man Wai, editor in chief of the Christian Times newspaper, have decided to stay. He writes here about his work in Hong Kong as the city undergoes unprecedented changes.

In the past four years since the implementation of the first national security law, Hong Kong has experienced a seismic shift. Many citizens who have been devoted to this city for decades, including prominent pro-democracy activists, journalists, opinion leaders, social workers, and politicians, have disappeared from the public sphere. Some have been detained; others are in exile. Still others remain in Hong Kong but are forbidden to speak publicly.

Once known for its freedoms, Hong Kong has sunk to the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom ranking. A sense of fear permeating civil society causes citizens to self-censor. Pro-democracy newspapers and websites have shut down as journalists have started their own news channels on social media. The city is currently experiencing a severe brain drain, although the government will not admit it.

So what am I doing still running a Christian news platform in Hong Kong?

The Chinese-language Christian Times started in 1987 as a small weekly newspaper. Through news stories, features, opinions, and devotions, we reflect on social issues from a Christian perspective and convey discussions among Christians of different denominations and theological backgrounds. What differentiates Christian Times from other Christian publications in Hong Kong is its focus on journalism.

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Today we see our mission as even more necessary because an authoritarian government can easily overlook the weak and the vulnerable, and because Christians need access to the truth about what is happening around them.

As the atmosphere tightens in Hong Kong, we feel it as well. More and more writers and sources prefer to remain anonymous. It is difficult to find Christians willing to share their heartfelt opinions with our readers because of the need to self-censor.

The church is also facing unique challenges. Many churches in Hong Kong have historical, denominational, and social ties with churches in mainland China. The stories of Christian persecution in the mainland—from the arrests and violence of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s to the cross removals in 2014—inform the churches in Hong Kong of what the future of religious freedom could look like.

Local churches are experiencing their own brain drain as congregants and pastoral staff leave Hong Kong for the United Kingdom as well as other countries. Churches increasingly face financial shortfalls as their congregations shrink and Hong Kong’s post-COVID economy struggles. These are important trends and stories that Christian Times continues to cover.

While our readers continue to support us through subscriptions and donations, our advertising revenue has fluctuated. Christian organizations, churches, and members of the local Christian community are our main advertisers. For a few years after the political changes, the number of job recruitment ads skyrocketed as many churches and organizations needed to fill the vacancies left by those who migrated overseas. In the latter half of 2023, a total of 222 churches posted openings on our site and on denominational sites.

But in recent months, the number of recruitment ads has been dropping. We are not exactly sure why, even though the city is currently facing an economic decline as stock prices, housing prices, and exports drop.

Recruiting staff to run our media site is also becoming more difficult. When we post job listings, only a few people apply. In the past, many were willing to work for us as interns, volunteer reporters, or photojournalists. While Christian Times hasn’t seen a mass exodus like some local churches, where up to half of the congregation has left, it is still difficult to find employees able to take on the heavy workload we currently experience.

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I don’t blame those who are leaving Hong Kong, especially now as our freedoms crumble. Leaving is a rational decision. Yet while people can go, the church cannot. There are still people here in Hong Kong who need to hear the gospel and how it fulfills their spiritual, emotional, and material needs. The Christian community in Hong Kong still needs information to understand the current reality and make wise judgments. Certainly, Christian media has work to do here.

In a society that is becoming more and more authoritarian, the voices of the weak and the powerless are increasingly overlooked, neglected, or silenced. An independent media source like ours can give these voices a platform, even if we take on risks ourselves. To continue publishing, we need to make sure that we don’t touch the government’s “red line,” as the results would be catastrophic. Yet the government doesn’t state clearly where that red line is. Even for simple editorial decisions, we need to seriously calculate whether it is a risk worth taking. Then we act in faith.

For instance, in 2021, just a year after the implementation of the previous national security law, the Hong Kong government planned to require all citizens to install a COVID-19 contact tracing app on their phones, which they would have to show every time they entered a public premise. But for the poor or homeless who could not afford a smartphone, such a measure could bar them from essential public facilities such as bathrooms, hospitals, and markets.

Organizations working with that population were concerned about the consequences, yet they worried that under the new law, they could be punished for discussing public affairs. Would publicly criticizing a government measure touch the red line? Still, one Christian nonprofit decided to interview some people who would be impacted by the measure and uploaded the recordings to social media.

Christian Times and several other local media outlets decided to cover the story despite the risks. Soon afterward, the government amended the measure. People without smartphones could ask social workers for letters that would permit them to register their information at the entrance to public premises by hand. The Hong Kong government did not mention whether they made the change due to public objections, so we can’t say for sure if our reporting was effective. But we know it was the right thing to do.

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Our editorial desk has faced many such deliberations in the past few years. Sometimes we decided the risk was not worth taking. When we did take the risk, sometimes we saw change because of our coverage, but frequently we did not.

As Christian journalists in Hong Kong, we need wisdom from God for discernment in our daily lives. We want more people to care about the poor, the weak, the sick, the homeless, and those in prison, just as Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25:31–46. We know that we can’t do it all, but we hope the Lord will use our small works in this city for his purpose.

The situation in Hong Kong continues to tighten. The government has just passed legislation against treason, sedition, insurrection, espionage, and collaboration with external forces, which will go into effect on March 23. Yet a similar proposal in 2003 ignited a peaceful demonstration by half a million people, bringing the legislative process to a halt.

This time, there are no protests due to the heavy punishment against protesting since the implementation of the national security law four years ago. The government now claims that 99 percent of the people who submitted their opinions on the new law agreed with it.

A recent survey found that Hong Kongers believe that there is above-average freedom of religion in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, freedom of speech, press, and association are a bit below average. (Freedom of demonstration was rated the lowest.) However, religious freedom is not independent of other freedoms. We are not sure what will happen after the proposed legislation is in effect. Will religious freedom remain the same? Will local churches still be able to fellowship with churches overseas? Will there be space for news media to uphold journalistic values? Where will the red line be?

Please pray for Hong Kong. We also need your prayers for Christian Times so that we can continue to serve the Christian community faithfully here, providing them with truth and keeping a written history of what is happening in our beloved city.

[ This article is also available in 简体中文 and 繁體中文. ]