There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report, and Government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion.
There were a few reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief or practice. Six of the largest religious groups have long 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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
SECTION I. RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHY
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) 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 practice some form of religion. The two most prevalent religions are Buddhism and Taoism, which are often celebrated together in the same temple. The region is home to approximately 700,000 Buddhists or Taoists, 320,000 Protestant Christians, 240,000 Roman Catholics, and 90,000 Muslims. There are small numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, approximately 4,000 practicing Jews, and an estimated 4,600 Jehovah's Witnesses. Many persons also hold Confucian beliefs, although few practice it as a formal religion. Representatives of the spiritual movement Falun Gong stated that their practitioners numbers approximately 500; however, Government officials claimed the number is lower.
Protestants have 1,400 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.
There are approximately 600 Buddhist and Taoist temples, an estimated 800 Christian churches and chapels, 5 mosques, 4 synagogues, 1 Hindu temple, and 1 Sikh temple. Catholics are served by 1 cardinal (appointed in 2006), 1 bishop, 297 priests, 66 monks, and 516 nuns, all of whom maintain traditional links to the Vatican. The assistant secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference had his office in the region. Along with its apostolic work, the Catholic Church engages in a broad array of social service activities. It operates 313 schools and kindergartens that enrolled more than 264,000 children. In addition it operates 6 hospitals, 15 clinics, 37 social centers, 18 hostels, 13 homes for the aged, and 19 rehabilitation centers.
Protestant churches are also deeply involved in education, health care, and social welfare. Protestant organizations operate three post-secondary institutions: Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, and Lingnan University. As of November 2006, they also ran 160 secondary schools, 206 primary schools, 273 kindergartens, and 116 nurseries. In addition they operated more than 30 theological seminaries and Bible schools, 30 Christian publishing houses, 70 Christian bookshops, 7 hospitals, 18 clinics, 35 homes for the elderly, 47 centers for the disabled, and scores of youth and day care centers. Two ecumenical bodies in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Chinese Christian Churches Union and the Hong Kong Christian Council, facilitate cooperative work among Protestant and other churches across the HKSAR. These bodies also have a number of affiliated organizations, such as the Hong Kong Christian Service, Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, United Christian Medical Service, Christian Family Service Centre, and Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital.
Various Muslim organizations also offer medical care, education, and financial aid to the needy. Some religious leaders and communities maintained active contacts with their mainland and international counterparts. Catholic and Protestant clergy were invited to give seminars and teach classes on the mainland and to develop two-way student exchanges on an ongoing basis.
The number of Falun Gong practitioners was reported to have dropped from approximately 1,000 to an estimated 500 since the crackdown on the mainland began in mid-1999, although Government officials claimed that the number was lower for both periods.
Numerous foreign missionary groups operate in and out of the region.
A wide range of faiths was represented in the Government, the judiciary, and the civil service. A large number of influential non-Christians were educated in Christian schools.
SECTION II. STATUS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The Basic Law provides for freedom of religion, and the Bill of Rights Ordinance prohibits religious discrimination by the HKSAR Government. The Government does not tolerate the abuse of religious freedom, either by governmental or private actors. Hong Kong has been a part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) since July 1, 1997, but according to the Basic Law the HKSAR enjoys a high degree of autonomy in the area of religious freedom under the "one country, two systems" concept. The Government does not recognize a state religion.
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 Roman Catholic Church.
The Home Affairs Bureau functions as a liaison between religious groups and the Government. Religious groups wishing to purchase a site to construct a school or hospital initiate their request with the Lands Department. Church-affiliated schools make their request to the Education and Manpower Bureau. Church-affiliated hospitals do so with the Health and Welfare Bureau. In February 2006 a Muslim group comprised primarily of residents of South Asian ethnicity complained that the Government had unfairly levied a $1.3 million (HK$10 million) land use fee on the construction of a new mosque. They argued that a similar-sized project by an ethnic Chinese charity was charged a fee of only $130 (HK$1,000). The Government denied that it had discriminated against the Muslim group on the basis of religion and contended that the two projects fell into different zoning categories.
Although not alleging religious discrimination, a Jewish group complained that the Government was insensitive to its attempts to find a location in the expensive central district to build a new synagogue.
The Election Committee Ordinance stipulates that the 6 largest religious groups in Hong Kong hold 40 seats on the 800-member Election Committee, which chooses the chief executive. The bodies that represent the largest religious groups 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. These 40 representatives are chosen by the leaders of the various religious groups.
The Government grants public holidays to mark special religious days on the traditional Chinese and Christian calendars, including Christmas and 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. The law requires each school that receives Government funding to establish a management board. Forty percent of the management board's members can be elected by teacher and parent groups. The sponsoring body can appoint the remaining 60 percent. In 2003 the Government passed the Education (Amendment) Ordinance which will affect 300 Catholic schools that enroll approximately 25 percent of the student population. Prior to the Education Ordinance, the management of each school was responsible for selecting all of its members. The ordinance, however, stipulates that 40 percent of each school's management must be elected representatives of teachers, parents, alumni, or other members of the community. The ordinance, which becomes effective in 2010, mandates that every school (not just those which receive Government funding) have its own incorporated management committee comprised of elected parents, teachers, and alumni. The diocese unsuccessfully sued to have the ordinance overturned in the Court of First Instance and may appeal the decision.
The Falun Gong is registered under the Societies Ordinance. Falun Gong is generally free to practice, organize, conduct nonviolent public demonstrations, and attract public attention through parades, pamphleteering, and manning booths to publicize its movement. During the period covered by this report, Falun Gong regularly conducted public protests against the repression of fellow practitioners in the PRC. Other spiritual exercise groups, including Xiang Gong and Yan Xin Qigong, were registered and practiced freely.
In February 2006 police authorized two marches by the Muslim community to protest the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Europe. The cartoons sparked violence worldwide, but both marches were peaceful.
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."
In March 2006 the Vatican appointed then Bishop Joseph Zen, the head of the Catholic Diocese, to the post of cardinal. The PRC Government responded by warning Cardinal Zen to refrain from commenting on the region's political matters. Despite this, Cardinal Zen remained an outspoken critic of both mainland and HKSAR policies and a strong advocate of religious freedom.
In March 2007 the Court of First Instance dismissed an application for judicial review brought by four Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners and the Falun Dafa Association of Hong Kong and affirmed the city's power to regulate who enters the city. The practitioners and more than 80 other followers of Falun Gong were turned away when they arrived for a conference in February 2003. They alleged that they were stopped because of their beliefs and that the city was acting on behalf of mainland authorities, who have designated the group an illegal "evil cult." The Government argued that the four were denied entry for organizing disruptive activities that would threaten public order. As of June 2007, the Hong Kong Association of Falun Gong planned to request discovery in the case over why the members were denied entry. The court found that the practitioners were not aliens under the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance, which defines Taiwan as part of China. "Aliens, and those in the same position as aliens, can be refused permission without reasons given or a hearing," the ruling justice said. In April 2007 one of the plaintiffs charged that "China's dirty hand has interfered in Hong Kong, which used to have values of freedom," according to The Epoch Times. Several hundred Falun Gong practitioners were reportedly permitted to enter that weekend.
According to Falun Gong's local spokesperson, more than 140 practitioners seeking to enter from Taiwan, including one of the four denied entry in February 2003, were turned away from the HKSAR in the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of its retrocession to the mainland. The spokesperson reportedly alleged that airport police subjected some practitioners to brutal treatment when they refused to board planes back to Taiwan. At least two Falun Gong members from Taiwan, including a professor from Taiwan Normal University and an official from the Mainland Affairs Council, were denied entry into Hong Kong during the reporting period.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the region.
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 a few reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief or practice.
In February 2006 four men used sledgehammers to break into the Hong Kong office of the Falun Gong-owned newspaper The Epoch Times and destroyed an expensive piece of machinery in the paper's print shop. Police investigated the incident but, as of the end of this reporting period, had made no arrests. Falun Gong claimed the attack was part of a worldwide campaign against the group by the Chinese Communist Party. The Hong Kong Journalists Association, the International Federation of Journalists, and several legislators condemned the break-in.
Falun Gong had opened the print shop only 2 weeks prior to the break-in after experiencing difficulties in finding a local company willing to print its paper. Following the February 2006 break-in, which disabled the print shop, Falun Gong was able to hire a printing company to continue publication of its paper, although orders again had to be placed on a day-to-day basis.
While Falun Gong practitioners freely and openly practiced their beliefs, they were occasionally subjected to more subtle forms of discrimination from private businesses. There were reports of discrimination in the business community against Falun Gong in 2004 and 2005, including refusal to book conference venues.
According to several reports and verbatim statements published by The Epoch Times in February 2007, Dr. Wang Lian, a Falun Gong practitioner who is a resident of Macau but worked in The Epoch Times' Hong Kong office, was detained and interrogated by Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials on the mainland in mid-September 2006. At the time of his detention, Dr. Lian was also an assistant professor of information technology at the Macau University of Science and Technology and a technical network advisor in the Hong Kong office of The Epoch Times. Dr. Lian claimed the 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 seek asylum in Australia in early February 2007.
Two ecumenical bodies facilitate cooperative work among Protestant churches and encourage local Christians to play an active part in society. The largest religious groups have long 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 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, meet regularly with religious leaders and community representatives.