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Hong Kong diocese makes bold stand for democracy

Strongly worded statement angers pro-Beijing lobby

Hong Kong diocese makes bold stand for democracy

A major rally for universal suffrage swarmed the streets of Hong Kong earlier this month reporter, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

July 27, 2013

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A war of words has broken out between senior Church officials and pro-Beijing figures in the Hong Kong government. After the diocese issued a strongly worded warning that the government must act to appease the territory's growing discontent, the lawmakers accused it of meddling and inciting its faithful to break the law by supporting acts of civil disobedience.

The statement was formally released on the diocesan website on Thursday and will appear on the front page of both its Chinese and English weekly bulletins tomorrow (Sunday.) A leaked version appeared in some media earlier this week.

It advises the government to begin consultation on electoral reform urgently.  In line with an open letter sent to the government last year, as well as the wishes of many in Hong Kong, it also calls for the implementation of “genuine universal suffrage” in time for the next chief executive elections in 2017, as well as direct election of all lawmakers in 2020.

At the moment, voting rights are not universal and candidate selection and election are widely perceived to be heavily vetted by Beijing.  

Remarkably, the statement goes on to outline the conditions that would justify civil disobedience, stipulating that “it must be carried out in a peaceful and non-violent manner,” and must be “an act of conscience directed at preventing or removing grave injustice and the violation of fundamental rights.”

This is widely taken to be a reference to the Occupy Central movement planned for July 2014, which aims to bring Hong Kong’s Central business district to a standstill.

But at a press conference on Thursday Father Michael Yeung, vicar general of the Hong Kong diocese, was careful to distance himself from this, insisting that the statement aims only to call upon all parties to dialogue. “We don’t wish to see any civil disobedience such as Occupy Central action taking place, as it would split up society,” he said.

Nevertheless, pro-Beijing figures reacted with predictable ferocity.   

Wong Kwok-hing of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said: “the territory has freedom of religion and speech, but a religious leader should not, in the name of “conforming religious teaching,” call on its faithful openly to join the Occupy Central movement and break the law.”

Chan Kam-lam of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said: “Yeung is distorting the facts. People should be watchful as one can feel the political atmosphere is moving towards an extreme.”

Fr Yeung returned fire by questioning whether the critics have read the full text of the statement, which uses the catechism to support its stance on democracy.

“The statement’s focus is not about agreeing or disagreeing with Occupy Central,” he said. “The Church’s position is not to intervene in politics but to promote the universal value of democratic election.” 

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