Catholics marchers demand freedom for evangelists jailed on mainland

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am

Scores of Catholics took to the streets in Hong Kong yesterday to demand Beijing free imprisoned evangelists and allow people freedom of belief and religion.

Beijing barred more than 200 leaders from unregistered Protestant house churches from attending a world religious conference, which opened in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday, despite a formal invitation by the organisers.

Outspoken cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun - who visited Shanghai last week - took part in yesterday's march and called on local Catholics not to forget the victimised clergy on the mainland. He hit out at the communist system as being 'a system of lies'.

The march organiser - the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic diocese - said yesterday's 'stations of the cross' service was to give spiritual support to clergy over the border.

The two-and-a-half-hour march saw 60 representatives from various groups march from a garden in Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, to Caine Road, making stops at seven places along the route to say prayers and sing hymns.

Some participants carried banners reading: 'Pray for those church people who are suppressed by an unjust system', and 'Pray for those church people who are locked up'.

The commission's executive secretary, Lina Chan Lai-na, said: 'The ban on going to the [Cape Town] conference is a good reminder that we should do something to press for changes in China.'

The conference, the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation, lasts until October 25. More than 200 representatives of the house church movement on the mainland had been invited. But some who tried to head to South Africa were intercepted at the airport and had their passports confiscated, while others were detained or put under house arrest.

According to the Texas-based ChinaAid Association - a Christian persecution watchdog group - about 1,000 law enforcement officers had been assigned to restrain the delegates and prevent them from leaving the country.

At a Mass after yesterday's march, Zen said: 'Those brothers and sisters of ours who are under ill-treatment in China are victims of the system. Our country's system is a system of lies under which we are forced to tell lies and cannot speak our minds.'

'If anyone dares to speak his mind, he would get 11 years in jail,' said Zen, referring to dissident Liu Xiaobo , who was sentenced last year to 11 years in jail for calling for more freedoms in China. Liu is this year's recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The cardinal - a close adviser to Pope Benedict on China affairs - was last week invited for a two-day visit to Shanghai. Yesterday he said was it was only a 'casual visit' and it was too early to say if it was a sign of warming ties between China and the Vatican.

Chan, of the commission, warned of signs the Hong Kong government was curbing civil liberties.

The commission said the government had tried to switch yesterday's service from the Lockhart Road Playground to the nearby Southorn Playground because of its 'sensitive' nature. The commission declined the government's offer to use Southorn Playground - and said its refusal to switch was intended to show its determination to safeguard rights and freedoms. The government later backed down.