Hong Kong Italian missionary protests detention of activists
Some 200 politicians and pro-democracy activists are being held in Shek Pik high-security prison in Hong Kong
Italian PIME missionary Fr. Franco Mella has served in Hong Kong since 1974. (AFP file photo)
An elderly Catholic missionary in Hong Kong has launched a three-day hunger strike outside a high-security prison to demand the release of politicians and activists jailed under Beijing’s controversial national security law.
Father Franco Mella, 74, a member of the Milan-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), vowed to refrain from eating as he began his protest near Shek Pik prison on the island of Lantau in Hong Kong on July 15 amid sweltering summer heat. , reported Reuters.
“It’s so hot. So they’re hurting inside. And the message [is] we are with you, do not lose hope. Let us continue to fight for the freedom of all,” Fr Mella said.
Amid the scorching heat of up to 30 degrees Celsius, the task of abstaining from food became even more difficult for the elderly priest.
The Milan-born priest arrived in Hong Kong in 1974 and since then has championed the human rights and freedom of the people of the Chinese-ruled city-state.
The Hong Kong government spokesperson, however, said the arrests were lawful and based on evidence. “It would be contrary to the rule of law to suggest that people of certain backgrounds could be above the law,” the spokesperson said.
Around 200 people, including activists and politicians, have been arrested and charged under the national security law imposed by China in June 2020 to quell pro-democracy protests that erupted in 2019.
Top US diplomat in Hong Kong Hanscom Smith, who ended his three-year term on July 11, has warned Beijing that he cannot expect Hong Kong to maintain its longstanding role as a as a global financial and commercial center if it continues the “crude and crippling” use of repressive law.
Meanwhile, on July 7, a United Nations human rights committee began examining Hong Kong’s rights record for the first time since Beijing imposed its national security law.
Father Mella was also among Christian representatives who delivered a letter to Carrie Lam, then Hong Kong’s chief executive, pleading for the release of Jimmy Lai and other activists in February 2022.
Jimmy Lai, a Catholic entrepreneur and media mogul, founded the now-defunct popular newspaper Apple Daily in 1995. It was forced to close in June 2021 by the Chinese government after 27 years of operating in its pro-democracy stance.
The Italian missionary had staged a similar “silent protest” in January 2022 at the Lai Chi Kok reception center, where 47 pro-democracy activists have been held for more than 300 days since their arrest.
“We can’t really understand why the prosecution put them in jail just…because they didn’t prepare the documents on this case,” Father Mella told the Hong Kong Free Press in January.
The national security law has sparked international condemnation as it has become the most repressive tool to muzzle dissent in Hong Kong, the former British colony once known as the freest city in the world.
The Act effectively curtailed freedoms, rights and a higher degree of autonomy, including an independent judiciary and legislature guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” framework in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong began in 2019, when Carrie Lam’s pro-Beijing regime proposed the controversial Extradition Bill, which sought to allow Hong Kong suspects to be tried in China.
The bill sparked massive public protests as anti-China and pro-democracy movements nearly paralyzed the city.
The bill was later deleted. Instead, the communist regime imposed the National Security Law to suppress pro-democracy politicians and supporters.
Arrests under the law, including those against leading Catholic politicians and activists, have sparked global outrage.
On May 11, National Security Police arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, a former bishop of Hong Kong, on charges of “colluding with foreign forces.” The old clergyman was released shortly after a global backlash.