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HK Christian Groups Express Concern over Self-Censorship under Political Pressure

HONG KONG- The cancellation of the invitation to Mainland Chinese Christians after Bush visit has raised concern over the tightening self-censorship of religious groups in Hong Kong.
( [email protected] ) May 15, 2006 06:06 PM EDT

HONG KONG- The cancellation of the invitation to Mainland Chinese Christians after Bush visit has raised concern over the tightening self-censorship of religious groups in Hong Kong.

Rose Wu, chairman of the Hong Kong Christian Institute, has explained about the crisis as interviewed by the pro-democracy international Chinese newspaper Epoch Times. She said Hong Kong and Mainland China used to have good relationship in terms of theological exchange, but the recent case involving the Hong Kong-based leading seminary China Graduate School of Theology (CGST) made her worried.

CGST has originally invited Yu Jie, Li Baiguang and Zhang Qianjin to participant in a study program in Hong Kong on June 11-24. One day after Yu and Li have had a high-profile meeting with the US 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 "regarding a certain international issue that has raised widespread concern recently."

"I am very surprised that a theological seminary in Hong Kong can cancel the invitation to those Chinese Christians because they have met with President Bush about religious freedom in China. This shows that the internal self-censorship of religious groups in Hong Kong is actually very serious," Wu said, according to Epoch Times.

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

Wu tried to explain the phenomena as saying, "Not only is it because of the difference in the acceptance of religions between Mainland China and Hong Kong, but the main reason 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," Wu concluded.

Wu pointed out that such culture is very "dangerous" as saying, "We do not have enough power, wisdom and courage to defend the religious freedom that Hong Kong has used to enjoy."

"If the Chinese government has just tried to infiltrate or persecute religious groups indirectly, we immediately shut our mouths and start self-censorship, then how big is the courage that Hong Kong society has to keep its conscience, and were the religious workers still able to stand firm?" Wu challenged, according to Epoch Times.

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

As a second attempt, the Gospel Herald Hong Kong has sent an email Saturday afternoon to Dr. Kevin Xi Yi Yao, the Acting Director of Chinese Culture Research Center of CGST, who has 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," as interviewed by Epoch Times. He believes that the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government must have exerted political pressure over CGST and the "international issue" that CGST 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. What is the position of Hong Kong in the entire China?" warned Szeto, "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, such as the BBC news. As politics and religious freedom got 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.

[Editor's note: Chris Chan reported from Hong Kong for this article and Eunice Or from San Francisco.]