01/31/2022, 00.00
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Catholics and Protestants call for amnesty of detainees held under Hong Kong’s security law

Some have been waiting to be tried for more than a year. PIME missionary Fr Mella urges Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, a Catholic, to put pressure on the central government. He hopes Pope Francis will sign a petition presented to local authorities.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Catholic and Protestant leaders today asked the authorities to grant amnesty to media magnate Jimmy Lai and other pro-democracy activists in jail for violating a draconian national security law, which can include life in prison.

Beijing imposed the law in June 2020, officially to restore stability to Hong Kong after massive pro-democracy protests in 2019. However, analysts, activists and Western governments view it a tool to silence Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The National Security Department within the Hong Kong Police Force has arrested more than 160 people. The first convictions arrived in the summer 2021. However, some people have been waiting to go to trial for more than a year.

The religious groups' petition was handed over to a government official outside the government’s headquarters.

According to Fr Franco Mella, PIME missionary and one of the promoters of the initiative, the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, a Catholic, could exert pressure on the central government to drop the charges against the defendants.

Standing with Anglican Rev Chi Wood Fung, a former member of the local parliament (Legislative Council), Fr Mella said he hoped Lam would heed her conscience as a Catholic and that more voices could rise in favour of amnesty.

So far, there has been no reaction from the government. Several religious figures in Great Britain and Ireland have signed the petition. Fr Mella hopes that Pope Francis will do the same.

Hong Kong’s Catholic community includes prominent government and business figures linked to Beijing, as well as pro-democracy activists like Lai.

The same goes for Hong Kong’s Protestants. One of the best known, former law professor Benny Tai, is among the 47 people in jail for organising or taking in the pro-democracy primaries in the summer of 2020 designed to select pro-democracy candidates for the September 2020 legislative elections, which were later postponed.

The defendants were charged with subversion under the national security law. According to the indictment, the organisers "plotted" to overthrow the government by trying to win 35 or more seats in the Legislative Council.

On 7 January Fr Mella started a sit-in in front of Lai Chi Kok prison in solidarity with the jailed activists. As he did last year for Lai and other political prisoners, he prayed that everyone might return to their families before the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated tomorrow.

Fr Mella is not new to such activism. Every year since 1999, he has protested together with others for the right of mainland-born children and spouses to be reunified with relatives in Hong Kong.

(Photo Reuters)

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