Several articles published in a China-run Hong Kong newspaper called Ta Kung Pao alleged that Christian clergy and churches, including Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen incited pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The newspaper accused the Christian clergy and churches of pushing people to demonstrate against China and defending demonstrators who were involved in such protests in 2019, prominent religious freedom lawyer and scholar Nina Shea warned.
Shea, who is the director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom wrote in an op-ed for The Epoch Times that the articles published in Ta Kung Pao reveal China's need for greater control over Hong Kong. Shea argued that the four articles "resemble a denunciation campaign of the kind portending a new crackdown."
According to the Christian Post, one of the four articles was titled "Cardinal Zen uses his status as a clergyman to disrupt Hong Kong" and accused the 90 year old bishop emeritus of Hong Kong of having ties with Jimmy Lai, the founder of the pro-democracy media Apple Daily and Martin Lee, a former Hong Kong legislator. Both Lee and Lai were arrested and convicted of unlawful assembly in 2021. Critics believe it was a move by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to crack down on Hong Kong's freedoms.
"It is difficult for the government to regulate or eliminate these religious groups or individuals, despite the fact that they have committed many crimes," the Ta Kung Pao article argued, lamenting that many of those who have been arrested for participating in the pro-democracy movement were actually students at Christian schools.
Shea pointed out that three more articles allege that chuches "incited riots" among the youth in Hong Kong and had provided refuge for pro-democracy demonstrators. The former commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom underscored, "They advocate for them to come under government control."
Cardinal Zen became a target of the Communist Party in recent years after he "[dared] to speak critically against Chinese leader Xi Jinping's repressive Sinicization policy for mainland churches" He was also critical of the Vatican's agreement with China in 2018 that empowered the CCP to choose bishop candidates. Shea added that some articles have implied that the CCP is interested in an "imminent takeover of Hong Kong's Christian schools" as well as "reprisals against the cardinal."
Shea also reported on an anonymous Hong Kong Christian cleric who expressed concerns over how the CCP may "intend to rein in the Christian schools as a first step to imposing comprehensive regulations to tighten government control over Hong Kong churches." One of the Tao Kung Pao articles even cited Angelican priest Rev. Peter Koon, who is on the pro-Beijing legislature of Hong Kong.
Koon proposed the establishment of a religious affairs office in the Chinese government or extending the Chinese Temple Ordinance to cover churches. The Chinese Temple Ordinance, which dates back to 1928, "mandates an onerous regime of government registration, management, control, inspection, audit, and other controls over Buddhist and Taoist monasteries."
China's hosting of the Beijing Winter Olympics has further put the spotlight on the communist state's attack on religious freedom, from their violations against the Uyghur Muslims and their strict surveillance and persecution of Christians.