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Sanctuaries for speech

With heart-shaped sticky notes in hand, participants of an annual prayer meeting on July 1 walked down the aisles of Holy Cross Church in Hong Kong and posted their prayer requests on two boards at the front of the sanctuary. It was the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

The pastel sticky notes carried heavy-hearted messages: “Lord, please grant Hong Kongers and the Chinese government wisdom, so we can all keep living in a Hong Kong with justice and rule of law,” read one. Others asked God for the release of political prisoners and for freedom in Hong Kong.

Around 400 citizens attended the Catholic church service in Sai Wan Ho. After the annual meeting, participants typically head to massive pro-democracy marches, a yearly event protesting the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong to China. But this is the second year the government has banned rallies, citing pandemic precautions. The real reason: to quash political dissent against the Chinese Communist Party’s rule, a crime punishable under a Hong Kong national security law passed in June 2020.

Enforcing that ban on rallies, 10,000 police officers patrolled the city on July 1. Officers blocked off Victoria Park, stopped and searched citizens, and arrested at least 19 people, including activists who were handing out “seditious” materials.

Prayer meetings hosted by churches and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic diocese—which organized the July 1 meeting—are one of the few remaining occasions Hong Kongers can gather publicly around politically sensitive issues. Since Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong, authorities have detained pro-democracy leaders, forced the shutdown of the pro-democracy paper Apple Daily, enforced patriotism requirements for political candidates, and added film censorship rules. On Sunday, the Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy organization that is reportedly under police investigation, announced it would disband.

Churches wonder when authorities may clamp down on them next: Several outspoken pastors have fled overseas, several churches have closed, and many of the remaining pastors now speak cautiously from the pulpit.

Read more at World Magazine

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