Press release

9 August 1999

Reports that the Pope has been banned from visiting Hong Kong, if confirmed, represent a profound symbolic loss of freedom for Hong Kong and the strongest confirmation so far that the " established basic policies of the People's Republic of China", as set out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, no longer apply as promised in 1984.

Permission to enter Hong Kong is within the jurisdiction of the Director of Immigration. Policies respecting entry are determined by the Hong Kong Government. The Central Authorities should avoid intervening in immigration decisions or else the autonomy of Hong Kong will be compromised.

The Established Basic Policies provide that " religious organisations and believers may maintain their relations with religious organisations elsewhere".

In 1970 the previous Pope visited Hong Kong. It was reasonable for Hong Kong's large Catholic community to assume in the light of that visit and the above statement from the Established Basic Policies that papal visits would still be permitted after the transfer of sovereignty.

The obvious reason for banning a visit by the Pope is the Vatican's continuing recognition of Taiwan. It seems very doubtful whether in the Central People's Government's own terms this can be described as a foreign affairs matter in which the Central People's Government is entitled to intervene.

The Pope is the leader of one of the world's largest religious denominations, which has hundreds of thousands of adherents in Hong Kong. Nothing could be more natural than that those adherents should wish to have him visit them here.

Hong Kong's past strength has rested on being an open, free city, which any law-abiding person is welcome to visit. The decision that the Pope is not welcome lends a disastrous message around the world that Hong Kong is no longer the free place that it was, and that the "One Country, Two Systems" formula is being steadily eroded. No amount of international travel and propaganda by SAR Government officials will counter the negative image of Hong Kong that this action creates or the adverse consequences for the many international links which depend on how Hong Kong is perceived.

We call on the HKSAR Government, and in particular the Director of Immigration to explain the precise position with regard to the Pope's proposed visit.

If it is correct that it has been vetoed by the CPG, we demand to know on what legal basis such a veto has been invoked, and we call on the CPG to reconsider its position.

We also hope that the leaders of Hong Kong's Catholic community will have the courage to speak out against this attack on religious freedom, and will not leave their responsibility to secular non-denominational human rights organisations such as ourselves.

1999 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor