Cardinal Joseph Zen has been a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party's regime. (Photo: AFP)
Church leaders supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing could be sent to mainland China to be tried under its opaque, politicized system when onerous new security laws are passed by Beijing as early as the end of this month.
The official draft of the laws has yet to be officially released but both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments have said they will cover sedition, secession and acts of terrorism.
Beijing has said it considers the street protests that began in June 2019 as terrorist acts and any calls for Hong Kong’s independence from China as acts of sedition.
The laws are expected to be passed by the Chinese Communist Party’s 176-person Central Committee by the end of June after permission to write the laws was backed almost unanimously by the annual National People’s Congress, China’s rubberstamp parliament, on May 28.
The most recent detail — that China would have the option of deciding to try anyone charged under the legislation on the mainland — emerged at a Shenzhen conference on June 15, a day ahead of the first anniversary of the protests that have roiled Hong Kong and cracked open its fragile peace with Beijing.
"Under very special circumstances, the central government retains jurisdiction over some cases involving criminal acts that seriously endanger national security," Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told the conference.
He also continued to claim that cases where the new laws were used would be rare, and they would still be prosecuted “according to the rule of law as upheld in Hong Kong,” but legal experts in Hong Kong and elsewhere remain wary due to Beijing’s history of reneging on promises, especially in relation to security matters.
Conviction by a mainland court would almost certainly mean jail time in one of China's notoriously brutal prisons.
Veteran pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok said he believed the jurisdiction plan would breach the city's Basic Law under which its judiciary is independent from China as well as the Hong Kong government.
"I think this is ... clear evidence that they are using this law as a label to quash political opposition," he told reporters.
Along with long-time protesters Cardinal Zen and Bishop Ha, many hundreds of other clergy and regular churchgoers are active in protests against Beijing imposing security laws on the territory.
Many student protesters are Catholics and Christians. Joshua Wong, the leader of the Umbrella movement, is a member of the United Christian Community Church, a Hong Kong-founded Protestant group.
Hong Kong Diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission has been a vocal supporter of the protests, backing the five core demands of the protesters that include universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police violence against protesters.
The activist bishops have also explicitly backed protesters’ demands and Bishop Ha gained a measure of fame last year for his vigils at Hong Kong universities helping to get students who had barricaded themselves in from the police out of the buildings.
To rub salt into the wounds of her increasingly angry and bewildered countrymen and women, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has doubled down on her backing of Beijing and relentless attacks on protesters.
She also exposed how far out of the decision-making loop she is in the city of which she is now only nominally in charge.
“Without the details about the provisions in the legislation, and how they are going to be applied, it is not possible and not appropriate because I’m not party to the lawmaking institution to comment on the individual comments made by my mainland counterparts,” she said.
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