2011 Report on International Religious Freedom: China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) - Hong Kong

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
July 30, 2012

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Executive SummaryShare    

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), as well as other laws and policies, protects religious freedom, and in practice the government generally respected religious freedom. The government did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

The consulate general clearly stated U.S. government interest in the full protection of freedom of religion. Consulate general officers at all levels, including the consul general, met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

According to the government’s Information Services Department, approximately 43 percent of the population practice some form of religion. The two most prevalent religions are Buddhism and Taoism, which often are observed in the same temple. There are approximately 1.5 million Buddhists and Taoists; 320,000 Protestants; about 355,000 Roman Catholics; approximately 20,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); about 90,000 Muslims; over 40,000 Hindus; about 10,000 Sikhs; and approximately 5,000-6,000 Jews. Confucianism also is prevalent, although few believers practiced Confucianism as a formal religion. There are between 300 and 500 practitioners of Falun Gong, a self-described spiritual discipline.

There are approximately 600 Taoist and Buddhist temples (including temples affiliated with Tibetan Buddhist schools), 800 Christian churches and chapels, five mosques, seven synagogues, one Hindu temple, and one Sikh temple.

There are 1,400 Protestant congregations, representing 50 denominations, including Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Anglicans, Christian and Missionary Alliance groups, the Church of Christ in China, Methodists, Pentecostals, and the Mormons. The Hong Kong Diocese recognizes Pope Benedict XVI as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. A bishop, as well as priests, monks, and nuns, served Catholics and maintained links to the Vatican.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal/Policy Framework

Since sovereignty was transferred from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, the Basic Law has provided the legal framework for the HKSAR. It upholds the principle of political autonomy in the HKSAR often referred to as “one country, two systems.” The Basic Law states that residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public.

The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These protections include the right to manifest religious belief individually or in community with others, in public or private, and through worship, observance, practice, and teaching. The ordinance also protects the right of parents or legal guardians to “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) functions as a liaison between religious groups and the government. The government has invited all interested groups, including affected organizations or individuals, to provide views on whether proposed measures discriminate on the basis of religion.

The only direct government role in managing religious affairs is the Chinese Temples Committee, which the secretary for home affairs leads. Its members are appointed by the chief executive. Since the 1960s, newly established temples have not been required to register under the colonial-era Chinese Temples Ordinance, and the committee at this point oversees only an estimated 24 of the region’s 600 temples. The committee oversees the management and operations of the 24 temples.

Religious groups are able to apply to the government to lease land at concessionary (less than market value) terms through sponsorship by the HAB. They still must “compete” with any other parties interested in the same land for the grant from the Lands Department. Religious organizations can apply to develop or use facilities in accordance with local legislation. Religious belief was not a barrier to public service, and a wide range of faiths was represented in the government, judiciary, and civil service. In addition, the Election Committee Ordinance stipulates that the six largest religious groups in Hong Kong hold 60 seats on the 1,200-member Election Committee tasked with nominating and voting for the region’s chief executive. The groups represented were the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, Hong Kong Christian Council (which represents Protestant denominations), Hong Kong Taoist Association, the Confucian Academy, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association.

Religious groups are exempted from the Societies Ordinance, which requires that nongovernmental organizations register. Registration for religious groups remains voluntary and is needed only if a group seeks government benefits or receives a grant to provide social services. Spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong are not classified as religious groups and must register under the Societies Ordinance if they wish to establish offices, collect dues from members, or have legal status.

The government offers funding to cover 90 percent of the budget of schools built and run by religious groups should these schools seek such support. While such schools cannot bar students based on religion, they were permitted to provide religious instruction as part of their curriculum.

The government observes Christmas and the Buddha’s birth as public holidays.

Government Practices

There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom, and the government generally respected religious freedom in practice. Under the Basic Law, the HKSAR has autonomy in the management of religious affairs. The Basic Law calls for ties between the region’s religious organizations and their mainland counterparts to be based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.”

Falun Gong representatives asserted that mainland authorities pressured the HKSAR to restrict the group’s activities in the region. In mainland China, the PRC government banned the Falun Gong under an “anti-cult” provision in the criminal law in 1999. Falun Gong members reported checks on their identity documents by police purportedly looking for practitioners from Taiwan. Falun Gong practitioners visiting Hong Kong as tourists generally were allowed to enter the territory, but local groups alleged that some Taiwanese practitioners who reported a Falun Gong-related purpose for applying for entry documents were refused entry for that reason. Practitioners also reported that relevant authorities consistently denied them access to public facilities they wished to rent for functions, usually because administrators reported the facilities to be booked previously.

During the year, Falun Gong representatives maintained regular information displays in high-traffic areas and conducted public protests against the repression of fellow practitioners outside the HKSAR. Other spiritual movements, including Xiang Gong and Yan Xin Qigong, were free to practice.

In a March 9 ruling, the High Court overturned the Immigration Department’s January 2010 decision to refuse visas to technical staff supporting the Falun Gong-affiliated Shen Yun Performing Arts troupe. Justice Andrew Cheung ruled that the director of immigration’s decision be “quashed” on the grounds that he “failed to take into account relevant considerations.” The Immigration Department had argued that the visas had been refused in accordance with laws protecting the employment of local workers and that the troupe could hire competent staff locally.

Schools that accepted government funds were regulated by the 2004 Education (Amendment) Ordinance, which mandates that the schools establish an “incorporated management committee.” Teacher and parent groups elected 40 percent of the members of the committee, and the sponsoring religious community appointed 60 percent of the members. The Catholic Diocese challenged the incorporated management committee requirement on the grounds that it could adversely affect the religious identity of its schools. Other groups, including the Sheng Kung Hui (Anglicans) and the Methodist Church, expressed similar concerns. The Catholic Diocese sued the government on the basis that the ordinance violated a provision in the Basic Law that states that religious organizations should be allowed to run educational institutions and other social services “according to their previous practice” prior to Hong Kong’s return to the PRC. The diocese lost its appeal in the case at the High Court (Court of Appeal) on February 4, 2010.

In a unanimous decision in October, the Court of Final Appeal likewise ruled against the diocese, stating that the reform did not violate any constitutional rights. The court stated that the Catholic Diocese’s “ asserted authority” to appoint 100 percent “of a school’s management committee, as well as the school’s supervisor and principal according to its previous practice, is not a constitutional right protected by the Basic Law.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom. Senior government leaders often participated in large-scale events held by religious organizations.

The Jewish community reported a few acts of anti-Semitism during the year. According to the media, during a legislative council policy debate in October, financial services sector representative and lawmaker Chim Pui-chung accused “Jewish funds in the United States” of committing “a major financial robbery every five years and a minor robbery every three years.” He reportedly said that these funds “bullied” Hong Kong and hurt Chinese funds and bankers. There were concerns within the Jewish community about some religious sermons in the generally peaceful Muslim community. Police received reports of some anti-Semitic graffiti, harassment of Jewish students, and websites that promoted hatred set up by foreign-born Hong Kongers.

A large variety of faith-based aid groups, including Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, and Catholic groups, provided education services.

Catholic and Protestant clergy from the region were invited by the state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations on the mainland to teach at religious institutions in China. There were also student exchanges between state-sanctioned religious groups on the mainland and Hong Kong-based religious groups.

Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant communities participated in a range of social services, including welfare, elder care, hospitals, and other charitable activities.

The Taoist community has requested that Lao-tse’s birthday be made a public holiday. The imam of one of Hong Kong’s major Muslim communities suggested in the media that Eid al-Fitr be made a public holiday as well.

Section IV. U.S. Government PolicyShare    

The consulate general has made clear U.S. government interest in the full protection of freedom of religion. Consulate general officers at all levels, including the consul general, met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives through attendance at community functions and invitations to religious leaders to consulate functions. The mission supported the community service work of faith-based organizations.