A Catholic is the only candidate for the election of the chief executive of Hong Kong

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The lone candidate for Hong Kong’s next chief executive told reporters on Tuesday that he is a Catholic who credits his Jesuit upbringing with his desire to “help society as a whole”.

John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong’s former chief government secretary and former security secretary, made what is believed to be the first official confirmation of his religion during a press stop on Tuesday.

John Lee Ka-chiu as Security Secretary introducing the controversial 2019 Extradition Act. Credit: Zuma Press / Alamy Stock Photo

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“I am a Catholic,” he said in a brief media exchange first reported by the South China Morning Post. “I believe in what I learned in my high school Wah Yan [Sacred Heart College], Kowloon. Lee told reporters that he sought to live up to his old school’s motto of service and that “helping those in need” was central to his election manifesto.

“I think we need to create a caring and inclusive society for everyone,” Lee said. “I actually practice this principle in my manifesto and in my future governance.”

Lee is running unopposed in the ballot to lead the special administrative region government and is expected to succeed current chief executive Carrie Lamb, also a Catholic.

Hong Kong’s constitutional text, called the Basic Law, provides for the chief executive to be elected by the Election Committee, the 1,500-member electoral college that is supposed to be ‘broadly representative’, with members drawn from political backgrounds , economic, professional and social. sectors.

The same committee also elects 40 of the 90 members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, with only 20 of the council members elected by popular vote.

Although the Basic Law states that the election of the Chief Executive must be conducted by universal suffrage as the “ultimate goal”, Hong Kong’s governance reforms imposed by Beijing in 2021 removed directly elected seats in the Legislative Assembly and strengthened the mainland government’s control over the election. composition of the committee.

The 2021 reforms also required vetting of all candidates for political office to ensure that only “patriots” appeared on election ballots, which resulted in the exclusion of pro-democracy candidates from public service.

Elections for the Chief Executive are scheduled for Saturday, May 8. Local media reported that Hong Kong police are expected to deploy up to 7,000 officers this weekend to deter any public protests.

The South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday that officers from the Hong Kong Police’s counter-terrorism and special response units had been activated to protect infrastructure points like train stations and other places of public gathering. possible.

In a statement on Facebook, police said they were working to “formulate contingency plans to ensure the election of the Chief Executive is conducted safely.”

In a televised question-and-answer session with a panel of reporters last week, Lee said the Hong Kong administration was still working to fully implement the “patriots only” rule and that the pursuit of constitutional reform towards universal suffrage “would not be a priority”. during his tenure.

Electoral reforms last year followed Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law 2020, which criminalized many forms of freedom of expression, both by individuals and in the press. , leading to the arrest and imprisonment of dozens of prominent pro-democracy activists. , former lawmakers and media personalities, many of whom are Catholic.

Lee said in a meeting with young people on Wednesday that those imprisoned for pro-democracy protests in recent years should be “given a chance to reintegrate into society after serving their sentence” and that “the government, the public, various organizations, NGOs, charities and businesses are happy to offer help.”

Those people would include Agnes Chow, the Catholic pro-democracy activist who was released from prison in June last year after serving a six-month prison sentence for attending an “illegal” rally in 2019.

Chow, 25, was convicted of participating in public protests against a law that would have allowed political prisoners to be extradited to mainland China for trial under certain circumstances. Prior to her imprisonment, Chow had been banned from running in Hong Kong elections following electoral reforms and charged with “sedition” under the National Security Act.

Currently in jail is Jimmy Lai, the Catholic media mogul and former publisher of the now-shutdown Apple Daily.

Lai was given a four-month sentence for attending a Christian prayer vigil in August 2019, in addition to a one-year sentence after pleading guilty to making public statements deemed to have invited foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs by allowing his newspaper to highlight the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong.

He also faces charges under the national security law for encouraging Hong Kongers to attend a banned memorial vigil in Tiananmen Square in 2020.

Despite the arrest and imprisonment of prominent political and media figures, Lee told Wednesday’s meeting that journalists in Hong Kong could “do their media work” with “maximum freedom” and accused international actors of attempting to overthrow the government and society of Hong Kong.

Lee also said the arrests and outlet closures were the result of “people trying to look like they’re doing media work, but in fact they’re pursuing political or personal goals, which has actually polluted the freedom of the press in Hong Kong”. Kong.”

Lee’s comments and his staunchly pro-Beijing platform for office, compared to imprisoned pro-democracy Catholic activists, highlight divisions within the local Catholic community.

Last year, the clergy of the diocese said The pillar that “Hong Kong is not ‘one thing,’ including Catholics here.”

“Many are very pro-democracy, pro-freedom in that sense, especially young people. But many others, especially the older generation, are proudly Chinese and are very happy to support the mainland government in principle,” a local cleric said.

“In the middle are many Hong Kongers and many Hong Kong Catholics, who are just scared of the situation; they see tensions rising and fear being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Hong Kong’s new bishop, Stephen Chow Sau-yan, acknowledged this division at his consecration in December, saying he hoped to “promote healing” in his “beloved hometown”.

“I am fully aware that it is not easy, given the painful damage that different parties have suffered in their own way over the past two years,” Chow said at the time.

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