Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Tyler Watt is an intern with the Center for Religious Liberty. This article appeared in Providence Magazine on June 30, 2021.
Hong Kong’s well-known pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to run its final edition on June 24 after authorities used the new national security law to freeze the company’s assets without a court order. It is yet another sign that the light of the city’s freedom is flickering out. The free expression of ideas that support democracy from outlets like Apple Daily would only be considered a national security threat to a totalitarian government that fears the truth. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Chinese government is.
The entrepreneurial founder of the Apple Daily, now in his 70s, sits in prison, forced to watch pro-Beijing authorities squeeze his business out of existence. Jimmy Lai crafted his own rags-to-riches tale after arriving in Hong Kong as a stowaway when he was 12 years old. He took advantage of the city’s freedoms relative to the mainland and developed successful retail and journalism businesses.
Leading up to the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, he turned his attention to the newspaper business. He founded Apple Daily in 1995 and ensured that the paper supported democracy from the beginning. In its first publication, the editors insisted that “Hongkongers who are accustomed to freedom will not stay silent in the face of unreasonable restrictions and unfair treatments, for Hongkongers are born with a passion for freedom.”
This clear opposition to the Chinese Communist Party was unlikely to make Beijing happy at the time. But now that Beijing has passed a recent sweeping national security law directed at Hong Kong, the government can crack down on any actions deemed a threat to its rule. A newspaper that advocates for political representation fits the bill. Formerly a bold and flamboyant publisher, the Apple Daily now has its windows barred and its executives imprisoned.
Hong Kong, which was once a beacon for East Asian openness, now operates as a thinly veiled front for Beijing’s draconian policies. As it systematically dismantles the free press, optimism for Hong Kong’s future is fading, crushed by the tightening yoke of Communist China’s control.
Individual activists have also borne the brunt of Beijing’s displeasure. Student leader Agnes Chow, octogenarian politician Martin Lee, and organizer Chow Hang Tung were all arrested for their pro-democracy advocacy in Hong Kong. The city is no longer a place where people can safely express beliefs that do not align with the government’s.
Other freedoms, including religious freedom, are also in danger. Many Catholics and Protestants were at the forefront of pro-democracy protests, including leaders such as Jimmy Lai, Agnes Chow, and Martin Lee.
As Beijing exercises more control over Hong Kong and the city’s autonomy becomes a thing of the past, many are concerned that the religious oppression that is a fixture on the mainland will spread. This could have devastating consequences for people of faith. Churches and pastors in Hong Kong have long provided Bibles, training, and financial support to house churches on the mainland. Now that the new national security law is being enforced, it remains to be seen how this will affect religious activities.
For now, Hong Kong maintains religious freedom conditions that are much better than the mainland. But as Beijing encroaches further into Hong Kong, basic freedoms and the rule of law are at risk. After all, the Chinese government is infamous for advancing a policy of Sinicizing religion and has heavily monitored government-sanctioned churches while persecuting unregistered house churches.
The situation in Hong Kong is looking increasingly dire. Yet there remains one last source of hope—the people. In defiance of authorities, thousands of Hong Kongers lined up in the rain to purchase a copy of the paper’s final edition on Friday. The one million copies printed were not sufficient to meet demand.
As Hong Kongers say farewell to Apple Daily, their support is a cause for hope. This city has long desired freedom. As democracy faces a global decline, they deserve whatever support the free world can offer.