Religious groups seek amnesty for Hong Kongers charged under national security law


HONG KONG, Jan 31 (Reuters) – A coalition of Christians and Catholics called on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday to drop charges against media mogul Jimmy Lai and other political activists jailed or detained under of a national security law imposed by China.

The petition from more than a dozen Christian and Catholic groups and leaders was delivered to a government official outside the Hong Kong government building.

“She could be active in asking Beijing (for an amnesty),” Catholic priest Franco Mella said, referring to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who is a devout Catholic.

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“Let’s hope she gives an answer to the voice of her conscience as a Catholic,” said Mella, flanked by the Reverend Chi Wood Fung, a Hong Kong Anglican priest and former lawmaker. “I hope more voices will be heard about the possibility of an amnesty for them.”

Lam’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Signatories included the Reverend Alan Smith of St. Albans in the UK and the former Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland, Lord Eames. Mella said he hoped the pope would “join his voice” in speaking out on rights issues in Hong Kong.

China imposed a sweeping national security law in June 2020 banning subversion, collusion with foreign forces, terrorism and secession with a possible life sentence. More than 160 people have been arrested under the legislation.

Some Western governments and rights groups say authorities are using the law to silence dissent and restrict freedoms.

Authorities in China and Hong Kong, however, say the law has brought stability to the financial hub after lengthy pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Among the most prominent national security law defendants are 47 pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers arrested in a mass raid in early 2021, as well as former Chinese media mogul and critic Lai.

Although some of Hong Kong’s government and business elites are Catholic and pro-Beijing, including Lam, other Catholics have long been active in pro-democracy and anti-government movements, including Lai and the former law professor Benny Tai.

Some observers see Hong Kong’s broad religious freedoms and traditions, like the rule of law, as one of the remaining bastions of the “one country, two systems” model under which Britain returned its former colony to the Chinese domination in 1997.

The Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs “one country, two systems,” explicitly provides for freedom of conscience and broad religious freedom.

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Reporting by James Pomfret. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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