For God’s Sake: Extradition bill ‘tearing community apart,’ Hong Kong’s Catholic diocese says

Cardinal John Tong (left), and Security Secretary John Lee (right). Photos via Catholic Church/GovHK.
Cardinal John Tong (left), and Security Secretary John Lee (right). Photos via Catholic Church/GovHK.

If you were beginning to think that the divisions over Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill had grown so deep as to require divine intervention to sort out, you’re not alone.

In a surprising move, The Hong Kong Catholic Diocese weighed in on the divisive legislation in a letter to priests and deacons on Friday, calling for special prayers for “the personal safety and liberty” of the city’s populace in the face of the looming legal changes, RTHK reports.

The letter, however, may prove too little, too late, with Security Secretary John Lee saying today that the bill will be snatched out of the hands of the committee tasked with scrutinizing it and sent to the full LegCo assembly next month.

While the diocese’s letter doesn’t go so far as to call for an outright abandonment of the controversial bill — which would, for the first time since the handover, allow extraditions to the mainland, Macau, and Taiwan — the wording does seem to suggest that the diocese has significant concerns.

Aside from the pointed reference to Hongkongers’ “personal safety and liberty,” the letter also contends that the bill is “threatening our local community and tearing it apart.”

It goes on to call on parishioners to pray for citizens and the government to work towards “a solution which, upholding justice and integrity, will truly safeguard the wellbeing of the people of Hong Kong.”

An unlikely coalition of pro-democracy activists, lawyers, businesspeople, foreign governments, and, now, clergy have expressed concerns about the bill, saying it undermines Hong Kong’s historically robust rule of law, and risks subjecting Hongkongers and foreign nationals alike to mistreatment at the hands of China’s notoriously opaque legal system.

In its letter, the diocese goes on to ask God to grant government officials “humility, so that they may be willing to listen to different views” on the bill — something they have so far proven unwilling to do, rejecting alternative proposals out of hand, and doggedly pushing the law through the Legislative Council over increasingly widespread objections.

It closes with a call for Christians in Hong Kong to do their part to “keep to a minimum the harmful effects of the amended Fugitive Offenders Law in case it is passed.”

Opposition to the legal changes has become so overwhelming that more than 100,000 people turned up for a protest calling for it to be scrapped, and the Legislative Council has been plunged into both procedural and literal chaos as the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps wrangle over the bill.

In an astounding feat of circular logic, however, Chief Executive Carrie Lam reiterated as recently as Thursday that it was impossible to withdraw the legislation, meant to plug a legal loophole, because the legal loophole addressed by the legislation hadn’t yet been plugged.

It remains unclear to what extent Lam, a devout Catholic who said she was answering God’s call when she decided to run for chief executive, would be influenced by the diocese’s missive.

Meanwhile, Security Secretary Lee today justified the decision to take the extradition bill out of the hands of the bills committee, which he claimed “has lost its ability to scrutinize the bill,” according to RTHK.

“There is a time constraint for the bill and the government had no other option but to make this difficult decision after careful deliberation,” Lee said.

Lee and other officials have repeatedly claimed that the passage of the bill is urgently needed to deal with the case of a Hongkonger wanted in Taiwan for the murder of his girlfriend last year, a case for which he cannot be tried in the SAR. The man, who was recently sentenced on money laundering charges for crimes committed in Hong Kong, could be freed from prison as soon as October.

However, even the Taiwanese government has been vocal in its criticism of the extradition bill, saying it could put its own citizens in Hong Kong at risk of rendition to the mainland. Taiwan went so far as to say that if the bill was passed, it would no longer seek the return of the murder suspect.

As they have with many of the bill’s critics, the government today suggested Taiwan’s opposition was merely the result of a misunderstanding, with Lee saying Hong Kong would somehow convince Taiwan to come around to its way of thinking.

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