CNA Staff, Feb 4, 2021 / 12:02 am (CNA).- A Catholic lawyer who helped found the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Martin Lee Chu-ming, 82, founded Hong Kong’s Democratic Party in 1994.
Lee has been demonstrating for universal suffrage in Hong Kong for nearly 40 years. He was founding chairman in 1990 of Hong Kong’s first pro-democracy party, the United Democrats of Hong Kong, and led the party’s successor, the Democratic Party, while serving in the territory’s legislature for more than two decades, UCA News reported.
Lee also helped to draft the “Basic Law,” or constitution, of Hong Kong.
Norwegian Conservative Party members Mathilde Tybring-Gjedde and Peter Frolic nominated Lee for the prize, calling the lawyer “a source of inspiration for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and advocates for freedom around the world.”
Hong Kong police arrested Lee, along with 14 other pro-democracy protestors, on April 18, 2020. Lee was arrested for taking part in protests in 2019 against an extradition bill— now withdrawn— which would have allowed the Chinese government to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong to the mainland to stand trial.
Lee is currently out on bail with a trial set to begin Feb. 16.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers largely enjoy freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.
Millions of citizens of Hong Kong, including many Catholics, have in recent years participated in large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which came to a head during summer 2019. Beijing has in recent years tightened control over the island territory and cracked down on dissent.
A new “National Security” Law for Hong Kong went into effect July 1, 2020, imposed directly by Beijing. It has been criticized as being overly broad on its definitions of terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion.
Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.
During August 2020, several prominent democracy activists were arrested and charged, including Agnes Chow, a 23-year-old Catholic democracy activist. Chow has been outspoken in her support for civil rights in the former British colony.
Also among those arrested in August was Jimmy Lai, a Catholic media executive who has supported the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement for the past 30 years. A band of nearly 200 police officers arrested Lai Aug. 10, along with at least nine others connected to Apple Daily, the newspaper Lai founded in 1995.
Following those arrests, apostolic administrator Cardinal John Tong Hon wrote to local clergy, warning them against mentioning politics in their homilies, according to Apple Daily.
Lai was free on bail for a time, but in early December was charged with foreign collusion. If convicted, he could receive a life sentence. Lai was also charged in early December 2020 with breaching the terms of a lease for his company, Next Digital Media.
After another brief period out on bail, Lai was ordered back to jail on Dec. 31, where he is set to remain until a hearing this month. His trial is expected to begin in April.
In November, three of the pro-democracy activists, including Chow, pled guilty on charges related to their roles in an “illegal assembly” in 2019. The next month, they were each sentenced to months in prison, with the possibility that they will face further charges.
On Jan. 6, 2021, police in Hong Kong arrested more than 50 people for apparent violations of the security law, including a number of politicians and organizers who took part in unofficial “primaries” to choose opposition candidates for the next elections in Hong Kong.
The territory was slated to hold parliamentary elections during September 2020, but officials postponed them, citing dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
In recent months, the Diocese of Hong Kong has issued directives to Catholic schools on “fostering the correct values on national identity” and respecting Chinese national symbols including the flag and national anthem. It has also blocked a Catholic pro-democracy ad campaign and prayer that was set to run in local newspapers.
The Diocese of Hong Kong remains without a permanent bishop, as the diocese has been led since 2019 by Cardinal Tong, who retired in 2017 and was brought back after Hong Kong’s previous bishop died unexpectedly.
Britain last week opened a new path to British citizenship for Hong Kongers, granting those with British National (Overseas) status to live, study and work in Britain for five years and eventually apply for citizenship, NBC News reported. Some 300,000 Hong Kongers are expected to take advantage of the visa and leave Hong Kong, the British government projects.