Priests Forced To Break Vows In China

New Hong Kong laws could result in the prosecution of priests who fail to report “political crimes” they hear in the confessional. Under the legislation, those with knowledge of “treason” face potential charges of “misprision of treason,” an offense carrying a 14-year prison term. Speaking to Hong Kong media, executive councilor Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he found nothing in the new laws that exempt priests or social workers, but he emphasized the importance of tackling treason and said national security is everybody’s concern.

According to the BBC, the legislation, known as Article 23, also permits behind-closed-doors trials and covers sedition and state secrets, as well as treason. China’s Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang said the move is necessary to protect “core national interests,” but critics say it will further erode freedoms and civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Prior attempts to enact similar laws met with fierce public protest when first presented in 2003. Then government chief executive Tung Chee-hwa withdrew the proposals, but now the administration claims that Article 23 has the backing of 99% of the Hong Kong public.

The newest legislative proposals follow the introduction of Beijing’s National Security Law (NSL) in 2020, which prompted pro-democracy demonstrations and, according to experts, indicated an erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and independence from the Chinese communist regime. The BBC reports that 260 people have been arrested under the NSL since 2020.

After 156 years of British rule, Hong Kong became part of the People’s Republic of China in 1997. At that time, it was designated special administrative status and promised 50 years of independence, allowing it to maintain a distinct economic and political system that separated it from mainland China. However, the NSL significantly increased Beijing’s influence, and some critics say that is likely to expand and escalate in the coming years.

Thousands of the city’s 7.4 million residents fled after the British handover, and experts say Hong Kong’s future is now in limbo.