||Home > Politics > 2013-08-29 17:06:23
Cardinal Zen says he is willing to risk jail
Hong Kong, August 29, 2013: The former Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, is prepared to go to jail if the promise made to the British colony when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 (that is, free democratic elections and universal suffrage by 2017) is not kept.
While it looks less and less likely that China will agree to free elections in one of its territories, the debate in Hong Kong, Asia’s financial hub, has been getting more and more heated by the month. On the occasion of Hong Kong’s handover anniversary last 1 July, 430 thousand people marched through the city’s forest of sky-scrappers, in what was described as the biggest pro-democratic demonstration held in a decade.
But the greatest concern for the Chinese government and its allies in Hong Kong, is Occupy Central, a movement inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest movement of 2011. Occupy Central was launched by a professor and a Protestant pastor and its aim is to paralyse the financial district in July next year, with a series of peaceful protests and acts of civil disobedience. The government runs the risk of the former colony’s image of stability and safety for business being compromised.
Unlike the rest of China, Hong Kong’s 7 million-strong population enjoys complete freedom of expression and religion and an independent judicial system. But its leaders – starting with the Chief Executive of Hong Kong who governs the former colony – are elected by a select number of voters, in a complex voting system which critics say was deliberately conceived to favour Beijing's allies. The opposition and the Occupy Central movement are asking the government to introduce a clearer voting process and allow universal suffrage so that the next Chief Executive can be elected in a more direct manner.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Cardinal Zen – who recently retired and has always been a critic of Beijing – said he was worried about potential infiltrations by pro-China protesters. Their aim is to provoke clashes, inciting the government to respond with force. "I'm worried we may finish with some violence ... Then they have the pretext to crush everything," the 81-year old prelate said.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Chun-ying Leung, warned Occupy Central’s organisers that sooner or later their civil disobedience movement would break the law and when this happens, his government will act with determination to ensure the law is respected. Some commentators have even suggested the possibility of a Tiananmen Square-like repression. But according to Zen, Leung need only "prepare more prisons for the occasion and not prepare tear gas because those people who join Occupy Central are happy to be arrested. They are there in order to be arrested."
The Catholic Church in Hong Kong does not openly support the movement but the latter’s appeals for democracy are the same ones the Church has been launching for decades. The diocese issued a note asking for free elections and universal suffrage in 2017, explaining that in exceptional situations, civil disobedience is justified, within certain limits, as long as it takes place in a peaceful and non-violent context.
“The unjust exclusion from meaningful political participation in the choice of one's leaders and representatives in civil government is certainly a grave injustice and violation of fundamental rights which ought to be redressed without further delay,” the note goes on to say. The diocese’s stance did not go down well with pro-Beijing figures in the Hong Kong government, who accused the Church of meddling in politics.
That Zen was recently accused by a China Daily commentator of encouraging Catholics to insult Leung and the government - amongst other things - is indicative of growing tensions.
(source: Vatican Insider, La Stampa.it/Ucan)