The organizer of a prayer meeting at a Vancouver church that was surrounded by a mob of pro-Chinese government protesters on Aug. 18 said his group will meet again to pray for peace and justice in Hong Kong, but he does not know when and where.
Around 100 people left a pro-China demonstration on the sidewalk outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street in mid-afternoon and descended upon the Tenth Church near city hall. The group was countering a protest by supporters of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
Up to 20 Vancouver Police officers closed the street, guarded the church’s doors and escorted the 70 worshippers out the back door while the Mainland Chinese group held flags and signs and took photographs of the departing worshippers.
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“I would never have thought they would actually come to the church to hold a counter protest,” Chris Chiu of Vancouver Christians for Peace, Love and Justice told theBreaker.news. “We were not even doing a protest, we were praying. I was kind of shocked. I was glad to know the [Vancouver Police] was out there, otherwise we’d be in a very vulnerable position.”
The prayer meeting had been mentioned on the Vancouver Christians for Peace, Love and Justice Facebook page. Chiu said the pro-China groups that suddenly countered gatherings by supporters of Hong Kong’s democracy movement on Aug. 17-18 in various cities appeared to be well co-ordinated and perhaps even related to the consulate. He wondered whether the photographs of his fellow worshippers would be shared online or even with the Chinese government.
“It is an act of bullying,” Chiu said. “We have freedom of religion. If we encounter people like this outside the church every time we have a prayer meeting, are people going to come? If people are going to be afraid to come to a religious gathering, our freedom of religion is being trampled on.”
Tenth Church’s senior pastor Ken Shigematsu said Chiu’s group remains welcome and he stands, in a non-partisan fashion, with those who advocate for the freedom to worship whatever faith they choose, without fear.
“I am supportive of such prayer meetings as they’re helpful in the future,” Shigematsu said. “I thought of the words of Martin Luther King Jr., that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. As a Christian church, we’ve had a long tradition of standing in solidarity with people who are vulnerable and we want to continue to do what we can to pray for peace and justice in Hong Kong.”
China does not enjoy the same freedom to protest and freedom to practice religion as Canada does.
In its annual report last year, Amnesty International noted how China’s State Council passed new regulations on religious affairs that “codified far-reaching state control over every aspect of religious practice, and extended power to authorities at all levels of the government to monitor, control and potentially punish religious practice.
“The revised law, which emphasized national security with a goal of curbing ‘infiltration and extremism’, could be used to further suppress the right to freedom of religion and belief, especially for Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and unrecognized churches,” said the Amnesty International report.
“We pray for China, and we pray for people who are practising Christians who are being persecuted under the Chinese government,” Chiu said. “I find it very perplexing that people, somehow, they’re in support of tyranny and in support of a regime that basically has no regards for human rights and religious freedom. We’re in a free country and they want to stop people from praying. It’s just mind boggling for me to see.”
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