2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - China (Hong Kong SAR)

[Covers the period from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009]

The Basic Law, which serves as the Constitution of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Six of the largest religious groups have long collaborated on community affairs and make up a joint conference of religious leaders.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The territory has an area of 422 square miles on more than 200 islands and the mainland, and a population of 6.9 million. Approximately 43 percent of the population practices some form of religion. The two most prevalent religions are Buddhism and Taoism, which are often observed together in the same temple. The region is home to approximately 700,000 Buddhists and Taoists, 320,000 Protestant Christians, 243,000 Roman Catholics, 90,000 Muslims, 40,000 Hindus, 8,000 Sikhs, 4,600 Jehovah's Witnesses, and 4,000 practicing Jews. Confucianism is also prevalent in the HKSAR. Although few believers practiced Confucianism as a formal religion, Confucian ideas and social tenets were often blended together with Taoism and Buddhism. The number of Falun Gong practitioners reportedly dropped from approximately 1,000 to 500 since the crackdown on the mainland began in July 1999; however, official estimates for the number of practitioners in the region are lower.

There are approximately 600 Buddhist and Taoist temples, 800 Christian churches and chapels, 5 mosques, 4 synagogues, 1 Hindu temple, and 1 Sikh temple.

There are 1,400 Protestant congregations, representing 50 denominations. The largest Protestant denomination is the Baptist Church, followed by the Lutheran Church. Other major denominations include Seventh-day Adventists, Anglicans, Christian and Missionary Alliance groups, the Church of Christ in China, Methodists, Pentecostals, and the Salvation Army. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is also present.

The pope is recognized as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics are served by a cardinal and bishop, as well as priests, monks, and nuns, all of whom maintain links to the Vatican. The office of the assistant secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference is located in the HKSAR. Along with its apostolic work, the Catholic Church engages in a broad range of social service activities: it operates 6 hospitals, 14 clinics, 38 social centers, 18 hostels, 13 homes for the elderly, and 20 rehabilitation centers. In addition, it operates 309 schools and kindergartens, serving more than 250,000 children.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Basic Law provides for freedom of religion, and the Bill of Rights Ordinance prohibits religious discrimination by the HKSAR Government. Sovereignty over HKSAR was transferred from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997; however, according to the Basic Law the HKSAR enjoys a high degree of autonomy in the area of religious freedom under the principle of "one country, two systems." The Government does not recognize a state religion. An opinion poll conducted in January 2008 by the University of Hong Kong found that the Hong Kong people gave religious freedom a score of 8.86 out of 10, the highest rating since the poll began after the handover in July 1997.

The Home Affairs Bureau functions as a liaison between religious groups and the Government. The Government grants public holidays to mark special religious days on the traditional Chinese and Christian calendars, including Christmas and the birth of Buddha.

There were no religious tests for government service, and a wide range of faiths was represented in the Government, judiciary, and civil service. In addition, the Election Committee Ordinance stipulates that the 6 largest religious groups in Hong Kong hold 40 seats on the 800-member Election Committee, which is tasked with nominating and voting for the region's chief executive. The groups represented are the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, Hong Kong Christian Council, Hong Kong Taoist Association, the Confucian Academy, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. The forty representatives are selected by leaders of their respective religious groups.

Religious groups are specifically exempted from the Societies Ordinance, which requires the registration of nongovernmental organizations; therefore, registration with the Government remains voluntary. Since spiritual exercise groups are not classified as religious groups, these groups, including the Falun Gong, are required to register under the Societies Ordinance. Falun Gong is generally free to practice, organize, conduct nonviolent public demonstrations, and attract public attention through parades and pamphleteering. During the reporting period, Falun Gong regularly conducted public protests against the repression of fellow practitioners. Other spiritual exercise groups, including Xiang Gong and Yan Xin Qigong, were registered and practiced freely.

A large variety of faith-based aid groups, including Protestant, Muslim, and Catholic groups, provide education, healthcare, and social welfare services. The Government sometimes funds the operating costs of schools and hospitals built by religious groups. In 2003 the Government passed the Education (Amendment) Ordinance, affecting 300 Catholic schools that enroll approximately 25 percent of the student population. The ordinance, which requires full compliance by 2010, mandates that all schools receiving government funding must establish an incorporated management committee. Forty percent of the members of the management committee are to be elected by teacher and parent groups; sixty percent are to be appointed by the sponsoring body. The Catholic Church sued to have the ordinance overturned in December 2005, arguing that the ordinance could prevent it from achieving its educational goals and requesting an exemption for Catholic schools from the management committee requirement.

Catholic and Protestant clergy give seminars and teach classes on the mainland, and two-way student exchanges are ongoing.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. Under the Basic Law, the PRC Government does not have jurisdiction over religious practices in the HKSAR. The Basic Law calls for ties between the region's religious organizations and their mainland counterparts to be based on "nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect."

On March 13, 2008, the Court of Appeal was to review a case brought by the Catholic diocese to the Court of First Instance in December 2005; however, both the Government and diocese asked that the appeal be deferred to allow for more time to resolve the matter out of court. The Catholic diocese sued to have the Education (Amendment) Ordinance, passed in 2003 and scheduled for full compliance by 2010, overturned. In November 2006 the Court of First Instance found that the ordinance was consistent with the Basic Law; the March court date represented the appeal of this decision.

In April 2008 a lawmaker stated that he had received complaints from Muslim in-patients alleging that food provided by the Hospital Authority at public hospitals had not been religiously "sanctified," and that Muslim in-patients were therefore unable to consume the food. The same lawmaker stated that Sikhs residing in the HKSAR allegedly became the target of police officers' stop-and-search actions because of their religious attire, and their children were allegedly ill-treated at school.

The Government stated that it does not discriminate against any particular religious groups, as the right to freedom of religious belief is protected under the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. When formulating policies and providing public services, all government bodies are required under Article 32 of the Basic Law and Article 15 of the Bill of Rights to treat the public on an equal basis regardless of their religious belief. As such, the Government invited all stakeholders, including affected organizations or individuals, to provide views on proposed measures to enhance public understanding and improve the quality of those measures.

During the reporting period one religious group claimed that it lacked places for assembly or worship, citing high property costs as the principal obstacle. The Government permitted religious groups to apply to use land set aside for government and community purposes. Religious groups were able to apply for general commercial land on concessionary terms, although they must still compete in the market for the land itself. The Government stated that religious organizations could apply to develop religious facilities in accordance with local legislation or to use facilities at community halls or commercial buildings so long as such activities did not breach the land lease.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

According to several reports and verbatim statements published by The Epoch Times in February 2007, Dr. Wang Lian, a Falun Gong practitioner who was employed as a technical network advisor in the HKSAR office of The Epoch Times, was detained and interrogated by Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials on the mainland in September 2006. Dr. Lian claimed that PSB officials directed him to spy on his colleagues and facilitate the disruption of operations, including hacking into the computer networks, at The Epoch Times' office. He reportedly turned over some files and documents to the PSB, which he claimed were of limited use, and fled to Australia to seek asylum in February 2007. As of the end of the reporting period, no update on Dr. Lian was available.

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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief or practice. Prominent social leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. Consulate general officers have made clear U.S. Government interest in the full protection and maintenance of freedom of religion. Consulate general officers at all levels, including the consul general, met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives.


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