Protestant pastor is first Christian clergy imprisoned on charges of sedition in Hong Kong

High Court building in Hong Kong
High Court building in Hong Kong | ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

A judge in Hong Kong sentenced a 59-year-old Protestant pastor to more than one year in prison for sedition, making him the first Christian clergy in the city to be convicted under the draconian national security law that mainland China imposed two years ago. 

“You have lost your conscience,” Pastor Garry Pang Moon-yuen reportedly told another judge during the hearing of activist Chow Hang-tung on Jan. 4, for which Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi at the West Kowloon Court on Thursday sentenced him to 10 months imprisonment for sedition and three months for seditious speech, UCA News reported.

In a separate case, a housewife identified as Chiu Mei-ying was also found guilty of sedition and sentenced to jail for clapping and criticizing magistrate Amy Chan during Chow's sentencing trial for encouraging people to participate in a vigil commemorating Tiananmen Massacre. 

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Pang and Chiu, who were attending the trial and applauded after Chow made an appeal for herself, were arrested in April for their comments and gestures during her trial and for the pastor’s videos and livestreams on his YouTube channel.

In one of his videos, Pang criticized magistrate Chan for “threatening to silence” people when she asked attendees who clapped during that trial to leave.

During sentencing, the judge said Pang had “demeaned the magistrate” and it was not a case of “a slip of the tongue.”

The pastor issued a warning at his trial last month, saying, “What’s going on in the court right now is not only a legal battle over sedition but also a battle to defend human rights and freedoms, a battle of safeguarding conscience.”

He added that people’s desire to change the legal system should not lead to a conviction for sedition, otherwise the city’s rule of law would crumble.

The U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern quoted a Catholic clergyman from Hong Kong as saying that, out of the fear of being charged under the security law, people in the city no longer share or like anything on Facebook that might offend the government.

“While Pang’s case might have been widely discussed online before NSL, now there is little discussion about him,” ICC said.

The pastor’s sentencing came days after the Roman Catholic Church renewed a scrutinized agreement with the People’s Republic of China over the appointment of bishops despite the communist government’s continued restrictions on religious freedom. The provisional agreement was initially approved in 2018 and was previously renewed in 2020, with the latest renewal scheduled to expire in 2024.

“The Vatican … is committed to continuing a respectful and constructive dialogue with the Chinese Party for a productive implementation of the Accord and further development of bilateral relations, with a view to fostering the mission of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people,” stated the Holy See Press Office.

The trial of 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was arrested for his role in a now-defunct humanitarian relief organization that helped people who participated in the large-scale 2019 pro-democracy protests, also resumed this week.

The West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court has charged Cardinal Zen and five other pro-democracy activists for not registering the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund with the police between 2019 and 2021 despite its “massive” size and “systematic” mode of operation.

The defense has to make its arguments before Principal Magistrate Ada Yim Shun-yee on Oct. 31, National Catholic Register said.

Cardinal Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong and critic of China’s communist government, fled Shanghai for Hong Kong about seven decades ago after the communists took over China.

In 1997, China had agreed to a “one country, two systems” arrangement to allow certain freedoms for Hong Kong when it received the city back from British control. Critics contend the security law undercuts the promised autonomy.

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