Concerns Raised Over HK Self-Censorship, Chinese Political Pressure

HONG KONG – Concerns over the tightening self-censorship of religious groups in Hong Kong has been raised after its leading seminary cancelled the visit of two Chinese house church Christians who recently met with U.S. President George W. Bush.

The Hong Kong-based China Graduate School of Theology (CGST) originally invited Yu Jie, Li Baiguang and Zhang Qianjin to participant in a study program in Hong Kong on June 11-24. However, one day after Yu and Li visited Washington, D.C., for a high-profile meeting with President Bush about religious freedom in China, CGST sent an email to them stating that "it is not an appropriate time" to invite them to Hong Kong because of “a certain international issue that has raised widespread concern recently."

"I am very surprised that a theological seminary in Hong Kong could cancel the invitation to those Chinese Christians because they met with President Bush about religious freedom in China,” said Rose Wu, chairman of the Hong Kong Christian Institute, in an interview with the pro-democracy international Chinese newspaper Epoch Times.

Although Wu noted that Hong Kong and Mainland China has had a good relationship in terms of theological exchange, she said the recent case has made her worried.

“This shows that the internal self-censorship of religious groups in Hong Kong is actually very serious," Wu said, according to Epoch Times.

Wu stated that the relationship and conversation between religious groups should never be affected by any political factor. She said that religion is now being "politicized."

In explaining, Wu said the main reason for this is that religious organizations in Hong Kong “have worried too much about the consequence of not following the Chinese government’s rules and favor when carrying out religious activities."

"As a result, in face of sensitive issues, they tend to fall into the culture of self-censorship," she stated.

Wu pointed out that such culture is very "dangerous."

"We do not have enough power, wisdom and courage to defend the religious freedom that Hong Kong used to enjoy," she said.

"If we immediately shut our mouths and start self-censorship when the Chinese government tries to infiltrate or persecute religious groups indirectly, then how great must the courage of the Hong Kong society be to keep its conscience?" Wu asked, according to Epoch Times.

The Gospel Herald in Hong Kong tried to contact CGST by phone and email last Friday for an explanation for the invitation’s cancellation. On Saturday morning, CGST replied: "The issue is already over in the view of CGST." All the other secular media have also received the same comment.

In a second attempt, The Gospel Herald in Hong Kong sent an email Saturday afternoon to Dr. Kevin Xi Yi Yao, the Acting Director of Chinese Culture Research Center of CGST, who signed the letter to cancel the invitation. However, Yao has refused to give any explanation also.

Szeto Wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance In Support Of Patriotic Democratic Movements Of China, criticized the action of CGST as "ridiculous," in his interview with the Epoch Times. He believes that the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government must have exerted political pressure on CGST, and the "international issue" that CGST is concerned about is obviously referring to the meeting with Bush.

Szeto echoed Wu’s opinion, saying that it is a worrying trend to see some religious organizations in Hong Kong compromise with the Chinese government’s policies.

"If the politics of Hong Kong becomes one with that in Mainland China, Hong Kong will be marginalized,” warned Szeto.

“What is the position of Hong Kong in the entire China? If Hong Kong doesn’t want to be marginalized, it must maintain its independency in legislation, strictly fulfilling ‘One Country, Two Systems’ in the Basic Law, so that Hong Kong can play its role fully."

The case of CGST has raised widespread concern of the mass media, both domestically and internationally, including BBC news. With politics and religious freedom entangled, it is expected to draw more debates.

CGST, established in 1973 in Hong Kong, aims to be an inter-denominational, evangelical and localized seminary that can train students to serve the Church in China and to spread the Gospel to all countries.

Chris Chan reported from Hong Kong for this article and Eunice Or from San Francisco.