“Stop using baton, or we sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” read one of the placards among the sea of people marching yet again in Hong Kong last Sunday. Even in the midst of passion and outrage, Hong Kongers kept a sense of humour – and for many, a display of faith. “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” has become an anthem for the entire movement in Hong Kong, regardless of faith.
Four days earlier, as police fired rubber bullets, sprayed teargas and pepper spray, and beat unarmed protesters with batons, a large group of Christians stood peacefully at the centre of the demonstrations, singing the familiar chorus repeatedly, and praying. Catholic priests and Protestant pastors were evident among the protesters, the most prominent being Hong Kong’s famous retired Cardinal Joseph Zen who joined Sunday’s march.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing participated in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight, saying that “no matter how long” the protesters stayed, he would stay with them. “The shepherd should not just be with the sheep but also guide them,” he added.
The diocese issued statements against the government’s proposed extradition law – the focus of the protests – and a Mass was held in the immediate aftermath of the police’s brutal, violent assault on demonstrators on 12 June. “They just want to voice their demands. Why do they deserve that [violence]?” Bishop Ha asked. “I can’t understand why Hong Kong has become like this today. We just want to live freely. We don’t deserve it.”
Hong Kong’s mothers also turned out in large numbers, after Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, in a tearful interview, drew a clumsy, patronising analogy with motherhood by saying that no mother gives in to all their child’s demands. In response, the real mothers of Hong Kong showed up in their thousands, with placards saying: “Don’t shoot our kids”.
On Saturday, Ms Lam announced that she would suspend indefinitely the controversial bill, which would allow suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China. However, it took more than a million Hong Kongers on the streets just over a week ago, combined with a previous silent march by judges and lawyers, statements by the International Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, a démarche – the highest diplomatic protest – from the European Union, statements by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt together with his Canadian counterpart, dozens of Parliamentarians from around the world and violent clashes with police in a subsequent protest last Wednesday to reach this point. And for most Hong Kongers, a mere suspension – however indefinite – is not enough.
This bill is the first time Hong Kong has united against its government with such clarity. Never before have businesses, lawyers, teachers, housewives, pro-democracy activists, the Church and the international community come together in this way. Ms Lam’s response was amazingly tin-eared. She insisted not only on pushing through the new measures but on rushing them through in just a matter of weeks, with little or no consultation – until she finally gave way to pressure.
She claimed that the bill aimed to close a loophole that the British colonial government had forgotten to address, but former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the last Governor of Hong Kong Lord Patten argued it was by no means a loophole, but a “firewall” – a deliberate, conscious decision to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy, based on the rule of law, from the mainland’s legal system which has no rule of law but rather “rule by law”. In China there is no independent judiciary, no guarantee of fair trial, widespread torture, executions and televised forced confessions. An open, free society such as Hong Kong, ranked 16th in the world for the rule of law, should not extradite people to such a jurisdiction. The entire principle of “one country, two systems” on which Hong Kong was handover over to China 22 years ago was at stake.
Hong Kongers have every reason to be worried. If this bill goes through, the Chinese Communist Party could nab from Hong Kong anyone it dislikes. Even foreigners in transit could be vulnerable.
And there is a precedent. Four years ago, booksellers who ran a business selling books critical of China’s leaders disappeared, some of them abducted, some arrested in the mainland. One of them, Lam Wing-kee, spent eight months in China before returning to Hong Kong. He has now fled to Taiwan, afraid that the law could be used to send him back to the mainland. If it is passed, he told me, the extradition law would be “a death sentence” for Hong Kong.
That is why more than two million Hong Kongers courageously protested again on Sunday, despite Ms Lam’s decision to suspend the bill. They say unless it is withdrawn completely, they will not stop marching. They are right – and they deserve our support. This issue – and Hong Kong’s wider struggle for freedom – has drawn Catholics to the cause of justice for the city. Ms Lam, who claims to be a practising Catholic, must heed the Church’s call for justice and freedom, and perhaps consider going to Confession.