There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion.
The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. 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 Hong Kong Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
SECTION I. RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHY
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) occupies 422 square miles on more than 200 islands and the mainland and its population was an estimated 6.9 million. Approximately 43 percent of the population participated in some form of religious practice. The two largest religions were Buddhism and Taoism, which were often celebrated together in the same temple. Hong Kong was home to approximately 700 thousand Buddhists or Taoists, 320 thousand Protestant Christians, 240 thousand Roman Catholics, and 100 thousand Muslims. There were small numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, and approximately 4 thousand practicing Jews. Many persons also held Confucian beliefs, although few practiced it as a formal religion. Representatives of the spiritual movement Falun Gong stated that their practitioners numbered approximately 500; however, HKSAR government officials claimed the number was lower.
Hong Kong's Protestants had 1,350 congregations representing 50 denominations. The largest Protestant denomination was the Baptist Church, followed by the Lutheran Church. Other major denominations included Seventh-day Adventists, Anglicans, Christian and Missionary Alliance groups, the Church of Christ in China, Methodists, and Pentecostals. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) was also present.
There were approximately 600 Buddhist and Taoist temples, an estimated 800 Christian churches and chapels, 5 mosques, 1 Hindu temple, 1 Sikh temple, and 3 synagogues. Catholics were served by I cardinal (appointed in 2006), 1 bishop, 299 priests, 66 monks, and 529 nuns, all of whom maintained traditional links to the Vatican. The assistant secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference had his office in Hong Kong. Along with its apostolic work, the Catholic Church was engaged in a broad array of social service activities. It operated 317 schools and kindergartens that enrolled more than 264 thousand children. In addition it operated six hospitals, fifteen clinics, twelve social centers, nineteen hostels, thirteen homes for the aged, and nineteen rehabilitation centers. Protestant churches were also deeply involved in education, health care, and social welfare. They ran 3 colleges, 703 schools and nurseries, 7 hospitals, 18 clinics, 35 homes for the elderly, 47 centers for the disabled, and scores of youth and day care centers. Various Muslim organizations also offered 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 on the mainland, teach classes there, and develop two-way student exchanges on an ongoing basis. Numerous foreign missionary groups operated in and out of the HKSAR.
A wide range of faiths was represented in the Government, the judiciary, and the civil service. A large number of influential non-Christians have been 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, and a wide range of faiths are 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. Catholics in the HKSAR recognize the pope as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
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. For other matters, the Home Affairs Bureau functions as a liaison between religious groups and the Government. During the reporting period, 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 acted unfairly and said the two projects fell into different zoning categories. The Government argued that zoning regulations did not discriminate based on religion or ethnicity. The Muslim group provided no further reaction following the Government's explanation Although not alleging 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 six largest religious groups in Hong Kong (Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Anglican) hold forty seats on the eight hundred-member Election Committee, which chooses the HKSAR's chief executive. These forty 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 Catholic Church complained that an education bill passed in 2004 limited its control over Catholic schools. The law requires each school that receives government funding to establish a management board and mandates that 40 percent of the board's members be elected by teacher and parent groups. The sponsoring body can appoint the remaining 60 percent. The Catholic Church argued that this interfered with its ability to manage the schools and set curriculum.
The Falun Gong, which considers itself a spiritual movement and not a religion, is registered under the Societies Ordinance. Falun Gong practitioners were able to stage public demonstrations and practice freely. Falun Gong practitioners regularly conducted public protests against the crackdown on fellow practitioners in the PRC. In May 2005 the Court of Final Appeal overturned convictions of eight Falun Gong practitioners who had been charged with obstructing and assaulting police officers during a sit-in protest in 2002. The ruling was widely viewed by observers as an important affirmation of Hong Kong's fundamental freedom of assembly, demonstration, and expression under the basic law. As of May 2006 the Court of Final Appeal had not issued a ruling on the complaint by four Falun Gong members (and the Falun Gong branch of Hong Kong) who were denied entry into the HKSAR for "security reasons" in 2004. The four were trying to attend Falun Gong's annual conference. The HKSAR denied entry to 41 practitioners, but permitted approximately 350 other practitioners to enter the HKSAR and attend the conference. Other spiritual exercise groups, including Xiang Gong and Yan Xin Qigong, were also registered and practiced freely in the HKSAR.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Under the Basic Law, the PRC Government does not have jurisdiction over religious practices in the HKSAR.
The Basic Law calls for ties between Hong Kong 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 Hong Kong's Catholic Diocese, to the post of cardinal. The PRC Government responded by warning Cardinal Zen to refrain from commenting on Hong Kong political matters. Despite this, Cardinal Zen remained an outspoken critic of both mainland and HKSAR policies and a strong advocate of religious freedom. When the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association appointed two bishops on the mainland against the wishes of the Vatican in April and May 2006, Cardinal Zen responded that in "China there is only one Catholic Church, and everyone wants to be led by the pope."
Falun Gong is generally free to practice, organize, conduct public demonstrations, and attract public attention for its movement. The number of Falun Gong practitioners in the HKSAR 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. During the period covered by this report, Falun Gong regularly conducted public protests against the repression of fellow practitioners in the PRC near the Hong Kong offices of the PRC Government.
Unlike in previous years, during the reporting period there were no reports that Falun Gong members were denied entry into Hong Kong.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.
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
The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom.
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.
While Falun Gong practitioners freely and openly practiced their beliefs, they were occasionally subjected to more subtle forms of discrimination from private businesses in Hong Kong. In September 2005 the Falun Gong's daily newspaper Epoch Times reported that an international hotel chain canceled its conference room booking due to a water leak. The newspaper had booked the room for a forum on the future of China. A Falun Gong spokesperson said that once it became widely known that the Falun Gong had sponsored the conference, a replacement facility could not be found. The group later held the forum in a public park. This is the second time in three years that an international hotel chain canceled a Falun Gong conference room booking. In 2004 a private hotel canceled a Falun Gong banquet room booking because of the group's "terrorist risk," according to Falun Gong representatives. Falun Gong successfully sued the hotel in small claims court.
In February 2006 four men used sledgehammers to break into the Hong Kong office of the Falun Gong-owned newspaper Epoch Times and destroyed an expensive piece of machinery in the paper's print shop. Police investigated the incident but made no arrests. Falun Gong claimed the attack was part of a worldwide campaign against the group by the Chinese Communist Party. The Hang Kong Journalists Association, the International Federation of Journalists, and several Hang Kong legislators condemned the break-in. After brief initial reports in local daily newspapers, the incident received no follow-up media coverage.
Falun Gong had opened the print shop only two weeks prior to the break-in after experiencing difficulties in finding a local company willing to print their paper. In May 2005 the private printing company the paper had been using refused to renew its contract. Falun Gong alleged the company feared business reprisals from its mainland clients. Falun Gong quickly found another printing company, although the company refused to sign a written contract, and orders had to be placed orally each day. According to Falun Gong representatives, at least ten other printing companies refused to print the 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.
On May 12, 2006, Yu Jie, Li Baiguang, and Wang Yi, three Christian intellectuals, met with President Bush at the White House. The following day, Yu and Li received e-mails from the China Graduate School of Theology (CGST) stating that their scheduled study program had become "unsuitable" due to a certain event that had attracted international attention. On May 15 the Government stated that it had no role in CGST's decision to rescind the invitation to Yu and Li. Yu Jie subsequently visited Hong Kong and participated in public activities while there.
SECTION IV. U.S. GOVERNMENT POLICY
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the HKSAR 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, conscience, expression, and association. Consulate general officers at all levels, including the consul general, meet regularly with religious leaders and community representatives.