|2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
The Basic Law (Hong Kong's mini-constitution) provides for freedom of religion, Hong Kong's Bill of Rights Ordinance prohibits religious discrimination, and the Government respects these provisions in practice. Although part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) since its July 1, 1997 reversion to PRC sovereignty, Hong Kong enjoys autonomy in the area of religious freedom under the "one country, two systems" concept that defines Hong Kong's relationship to the rest of China.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion. The mainland Government and its representatives in Hong Kong criticized the activities of some Hong Kong religious and spiritual groups and individuals. However, Hong Kong authorities adhered to Hong Kong law and did not restrict those groups' activities.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Consulate General officers meet regularly with religious leaders.
Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion
The Basic Law (Hong Kong's mini-constitution, which spells out the "one country, two systems" concept) provides for freedom of religion, the Bill of Rights Ordinance prohibits religious discrimination, and the Government respects these provisions in practice. The Government at all levels protects religious freedom in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. Although part of the People's Republic of China since its July 1, 1997 reversion to PRC sovereignty, Hong Kong enjoys autonomy in the area of religious freedom under the "one country, two systems" concept that defines Hong Kong's relationship to the rest of China.
The Government does not recognize a state religion but does grant public holidays to mark numerous special days on the traditional Chinese and Christian calendars, as well as Buddha's birthday.
Religious groups are not required to register with the Government and are exempted specifically from the Societies Ordinance, which requires the registration of nongovernmental organizations. Catholics recognize the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church. The spiritual movement widely known as Falun Gong, which does not consider itself a religion, is registered, practices freely, and holds regular public demonstrations against PRC policies. For example, despite complaints by PRC representatives and a stern warning from Chief Executive C.H. Tung not to violate Hong Kong law or act "in any manner against the interests of China, Hong Kong, or 'one country, two systems,'" Falun Gong practitioners held an international conference in December 1999, and organized public demonstrations outside PRC offices. Other qigong groups, including Zhong Gong (which was banned in the PRC in late 1999), Xiang Gong, and Yan Xin Qigong, also are registered and practice freely in Hong Kong. Another group allegedly listed as an "evil cult" by the PRC, the Taiwan-based Guan Yin Method, also is registered legally and practices freely.
Religious groups have a long history of cooperating with the Government on social welfare projects. For example, the Government often funds the operating costs of schools and hospitals built by religious groups. The Home Affairs Bureau is responsible for religion-related policy, but functions basically as no more than a contact point for liaison and exchange of views. If a religious group wants to purchase a site to construct a school or hospital, it works with the Lands Department; otherwise, church-affiliated schools work with the Education and Manpower Bureau and church-affiliated hospitals work with the Health and Welfare Bureau. Draft educational reforms still under public discussion would require management committees of government-subsidized schools, including religious-sponsored ones, to allow broader community participation. One religious group expressed concern that reducing from 100 to 60 the percentage of the committee members who can be named by the sponsoring body would reduce a church's control over a given school's management. Six of the largest religious groups (Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Anglican) long have collaborated in a collegium on community affairs and make up the joint conference of religious leaders. Representatives of these groups comprise 40 members of the 800-member Election Committee, which chooses Hong Kong's Chief Executive and a number of Legislative Council members.
Although under the Basic Law the PRC Government has no say over religious practices in Hong Kong, its representatives in Hong Kong and the two PRC-owned newspapers in Hong Kong have criticized some Hong Kong religious and other spiritual groups and individuals. Hong Kong religious leaders also have noted that the Basic Law provision that calls for ties between Hong Kong religious organizations and their mainland counterparts to be based on "non-subordination, non-interference and mutual respect" could be used to limit such ties. In April 2000, mainland authorities reportedly charged a Hong Kong religious leader with violating this non-interference clause by criticizing mainland religious policies. In addition, the Hong Kong Catholic Church reportedly has had many contacts and exchanges with its mainland counterparts in the official church put on hold due to the current restrictive climate in the PRC for religious groups, because of tighter restrictions on religious groups imposed by the PRC Government. However, the traditional ties of the Hong Kong Catholic Church to the Vatican have not precluded its contacts with the official Catholic Church in the PRC.
In June 1999, the PRC Government, which has responsibility for Hong Kong's foreign affairs, blocked a proposed papal visit to Hong Kong. The PRC Government reportedly considered the visit as one of a head of state rather than as one of a religious leader. When this news became public in August 1999, Hong Kong's Chief Executive reiterated the importance of religious freedom to Hong Kong and noted the "unfortunate" fact that the Pope could not visit Hong Kong because of foreign policy concerns.
Although Falun Gong is free to practice, organize, and conduct public demonstrations, its practitioners expressed concern about pressure coming from mainland authorities and their supporters. Numerous articles critical of the group appeared in PRC-owned Hong Kong newspapers. In April 2000, a PRC State Council spokesman reportedly called a Hong Kong Falun Gong spokesman "a tool used by Western powers to subvert the central Government." A Falun Gong spokesman in Hong Kong responded that practitioners were undeterred by the PRC's unfounded criticisms, but the number of Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong is said to have dropped from around 1,000 to about 600 since the mainland crackdown began in mid-1999. Some Hong Kong publishing houses owned by mainland Chinese interests declined to continue publishing Falun Gong materials after the movement was banned on the mainland in July 1999, and some bookstores run by Chinese enterprises removed Falun Gong books from their shelves.
In October 1999, it was discovered that PRC Government censorship of Falun Gong-related information temporarily affected Hong Kong users of a major local paging service, China Motion Telecom, because the service utilized mainland-located transmission centers. Mainland-based employees of the company refused to transmit messages regarding Falun Gong, even for Hong Kong customers, because of an alleged PRC Government instruction that any messages related to Falun Gong should not be broadcast. Under scrutiny from the Government and pressure from the wider community, the company quickly found a technical solution to the problem, briefed its staff, and as a result ceased censorship for customers whose service was limited to Hong Kong. However, the company insisted, and the Hong Kong Telecommunications Authority agreed, that the company had to follow mainland laws (including censorship rules) for customers whose paging service extended to the mainland. Hong Kong customers of China Motion Telecom with China-wide (rather than Hong-Kong-only) service remain unable to receive messages relating to Falun Gong. The Hong Kong Telecommunications Authority issued amended guidelines in February requiring a licensee to configure its system to enable Hong Kong-origin paging messages, including those that would be barred for transmission outside Hong Kong, to be transmitted in Hong Kong only.
Approximately 43 percent of the population participate in some form of religious practice. The two largest religions are Buddhism and Taoism. Approximately 4 percent of the population are Roman Catholic, 5 percent are Protestant, and 1 percent are Muslim. There are also small numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews. There are 1,300 Protestant congregations representing 50 denominations. The Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination, followed by the Lutherans. Other major denominations include Seventh-Day Adventists, Anglicans, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of Christ in China, Methodist, Pentecostal and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). There has been marked growth in the number of independent churches since the 1970s. Falun Gong representatives in Hong Kong state that their practitioners number from 500 to 1,000.
There are about 600 Buddhist and Taoist temples, approximately 800 Christian churches and chapels, 4 mosques, a Hindu temple, a Sikh temple, and a synagogue. The Catholic population is served by 337 priests, 89 monks, and 530 nuns with traditional links to the Pope. More than 290,000 children are enrolled in 322 Catholic schools and kindergartens. The Assistant Secretary General of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference has his office in Hong Kong. Protestant churches run three colleges and over 700 schools. Religious leaders tend to focus primarily on local spiritual, educational, social, and medical needs. However, some religious leaders and communities maintain active contacts with their mainland and international counterparts. Catholic and Protestant clergy have been invited to give seminars on the mainland, to teach classes there, and to develop two-way student exchanges (although some mainland students have had difficulty in receiving the necessary approval from the authorities to depart mainland China).
A wide range of faiths is represented in the government, the judiciary, and the civil service. A large number of influential non-Christians had Christian educations.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
Relations between the various religious communities are amicable. Two ecumenical bodies facilitate cooperative work among the protestant churches and encourage local Christians to play an active part in society. However, a few Hong Kong Buddhist leaders have issued statements critical of Falun Gong and in that context warned against the danger of cults.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Consulate General officers meet regularly with religious leaders and community representatives.
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