Freedom under threat in Hong Kong – protests continue

Protesters in Hong Kong in June. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a kid, I vividly remember watching a ceremony on TV where Hong Kong was transferred from the United Kingdom to China. I couldn’t begin to understand the significance of that event at the time. That was 22 years ago. When Hong Kong was handed over to China, there was an agreement in place where Hong Kong would retain its economic and political systems for 50 years.

This was significant, as China has one of the worst human rights records in the world. During the reign of Mao, more people died than under Hitler and Stalin combined.

China continues to be largely totalitarian. For a generation, they had a one-child policy which has created various economic and social problems (including human trafficking). The current leader of the Communist party in China is Xi Jinping. Since coming to power in 2013, he has cracked down on religion, notably Christians and Muslims within China. He has imprisoned and tortured human rights lawyers. The state censors and monitors the internet activities of her citizens. And these issues are only getting worse.

China wants to infringe upon the rights in Hong Kong as well. Massive protests (some estimates say 2 million people) were held last month in Hong Kong regarding an extradition proposal which would have allowed people charged with crimes in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. The concern with this was that it would become a tool of oppression that the Chinese government would use to punish opposition.

For now, the proposal has been withdrawn. People have called for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign. This was a move that was clearly not in the best interest of the citizens of Hong Kong. But herein lies part of the problem. The Chief Executive is appointed by China, not democratically elected by the people of Hong Kong.

Today, on the anniversary of the British-Chinese handover of Hong Kong, more protests erupted as hundreds of protesters stormed government buildings in Hong Kong.

It’s both encouraging and tragic. It’s encouraging that citizens of Hong Kong are standing up and fighting for their freedom. It’s tragic that their freedom is under attack.

In America, we often like to paint the opposition as tyrannical and evil. The Chinese government actively monitors and persecutes those who disagree. Today, in Hong Kong, they have freedom of the press (China doesn’t). They have freedom of assembly (which has made these protests possible).

A great many of the protesters are young. Some of them were either children (or not even yet born) when Hong Kong was handed over from the United Kingdom to China. They’ve always known freedom, and now that is under threat. It should also be a reminder to pay attention. Because freedom can be choked away from a society if people aren’t paying attention.

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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.