U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2001 - China (Hong Kong)

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 generally 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, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. The mainland Government and its representatives in Hong Kong opposed 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 Hong Kong Government's study of possible "anti-sect" legislation has raised concerns about possible Hong Kong Government action against the Falun Gong.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Six of the largest religious groups long have collaborated in a collegium on community affairs and make up a joint conference of religious leaders.

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. Religious Demography

Hong Kong occupies 422 square miles on more than 200 islands and the mainland, and its population is approximately 6.8 million. Approximately 43 percent of the population participate in some form of religious practice. The two largest religions are Buddhism and Taoism. Approximately 5 percent of the population are Protestant, 4 percent are Roman Catholic, and 1 percent are Muslim. There also are small numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews. Falun Gong representatives in Hong Kong state that their practitioners number approximately 500.

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 are approximately 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 3 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; however, some mainland students have had difficulty obtaining approval from PRC authorities to depart mainland China. Numerous foreign missionary groups operate in and out of Hong Kong.

There has been marked growth in the number of independent churches since the 1970's.

A wide range of faiths is represented in the government, the judiciary, and the civil service. A large number of influential non-Christians receive Christian education.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

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 by the Government, and the Government generally respects these provisions in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects religious freedom in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. Although part of the 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. The Government does not recognize a state religion, and a wide range of faiths is represented in the Government, the judiciary, and the civil service.

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 (NGO's). 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, Falun Gong practitioners held an international conference in a government-owned facility in January, held a number of public protests during President Jiang Zemin's visit in May, and regularly 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 as well.

The Home Affairs Bureau is responsible for religion-related policy, but functions basically as 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. Some religious groups that run schools have expressed concern over a required reduction, from 100 to 60 percent, of the committee members who can be named by the sponsoring body, thereby reducing a church's control over a given school's management.

Representatives of 6 of the largest religious groups (Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Anglican) comprise 40 members of the 800-member Election Committee, which chooses Hong Kong's Chief Executive and a number of Legislative Council members.

The Government grants public holidays to mark numerous special days on the traditional Chinese and Christian calendars, as well as Buddha's birthday.

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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Although under the Basic Law the PRC Government has no say over religious practices in Hong Kong, its leaders, official PRC 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. One Basic Law provision calls for ties between Hong Kong religious organizations and their mainland counterparts to be based on "nonsubordination, noninterference and mutual respect." Hong Kong religious leaders have noted that this provision could be used to limit such ties. In April 2000, mainland authorities reportedly accused a Hong Kong religious leader with violating this noninterference clause by criticizing mainland religious policies; since then, that leader has not been able to secure permission from PRC authorities to visit China. Many of the Hong Kong Catholic Church's contacts and exchanges with its mainland counterparts in the official Catholic church remained on hold because of tight 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 September 2000, Hong Kong-based Chinese officials urged Hong Kong's Catholic Church to keep "low key" its celebrations of the October 1 canonization by the Pope of 120 foreign missionaries and Chinese Catholics who had been martyred in China. However, the Hong Kong Catholic Church stated that it would not alter its fairly extensive plans to mark the occasion.

Although Falun Gong remains free to practice, organize, and conduct public demonstrations, concern about pressure from mainland authorities and their supporters to limit the group's activities increased during the period covered by this report. Articles critical of the group were published in PRC-owned Hong Kong newspapers. In December 2000 in Macau, PRC President Jiang Zemin stated that the Macau Government should not allow anyone to stage any activities in Macau against the Central Government or to split the country in any way; in his speech he made it clear that his comments applied equally to Hong Kong and Macau. The number of Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong is said to have dropped from around 1,000 to about 500 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 addition, Falun Gong organizers have reported reluctance on the part of some hotels, cultural centers, and other venues to lend or lease space for Falun Gong exhibitions or other activities. An international Falun Gong conference held at a Government-owned facility in January drew intense criticism by pro-PRC organizations.

Since the conference, there have been concerns about the possibility of the Hong Kong government taking action against the Falun Gong. Senior Hong Kong leaders have stated that the group is "no doubt an evil cult," and stated that the Government would not let the Falun Gong "abuse Hong Kong's freedoms and tolerance to affect public peace and order" in Hong Kong or in the mainland. Officials also have labeled the group "fanatical, superstitious, and devious." In the period prior to President Jiang Zemin's visit to Hong Kong for a major international business conference in May, the Hong Kong Government claimed that the local Falun Gong practitioners' plan for demonstrations during the visit was "a deliberate move to undermine the relationship between Hong Kong and the central government." The Hong Kong Government also barred entry into Hong Kong of approximately 100 Falun Gong practitioners, most of whom were from the United States, Australia, the UK and Taiwan. The Government cited undefined "security reasons" for the entry bans and denied that its actions were based on the individuals' religious beliefs or membership in any particular organization. Nonetheless, several hundred local and foreign Falun Gong practitioners were allowed to demonstrate freely on numerous occasions and at numerous venues during President Jiang's visit. Immediately following the May conference, concerns arose when press reports cited unnamed officials who claimed that the Hong Kong Government planned to propose "anti-cult" legislation. The Hong Kong Government confirmed that it was studying the possibility, but stated that it had "no plans at present" to introduce such legislation.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including 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 III. Societal Attitudes

Relations among the various religious communities are amicable; however, a few Hong Kong Buddhist leaders and one evangelical Christian leader have issued statements critical of Falun Gong and warned against the danger of "cults."

Two ecumenical bodies facilitate cooperative work among the Protestant churches and encourage local Christians to play an active part in society. Six of the largest religious groups (Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Muslim) long have collaborated in a collegium on community affairs and make up the joint conference of religious leaders.

Section IV. 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 at all levels have made clear U.S. Government interests in the full protection and maintenance of freedom of religion, conscience, expression, and association. Consulate General officers meet regularly with religious leaders and community representatives.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2001 is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to Congress by September 1 of each year, or the first day thereafter on which the appropriate House of Congress is in session, "an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom supplementing the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom." The 2001 Report covers the period from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001.

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