Religious groups in Hong Kong fear they could be politically targeted after police recently raided a church that supported protesters during the 2019 protest movement.
Rev. Wu Chi Wai, who presides as the general secretary of the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, told Radio Free Asia that the Hong Kong police are now targeting churches using accusations of vaguely defined "money laundering" activities that fall under the national security law's clause prohibiting "collusion with foreign powers."
"The wording of the national security law is ambiguous, which means that churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, are now open to accusations of colluding with foreign powers," Wu said.
"The police can demand to see church accounts and raid the premises to gather evidence [under the law]," he added.
Wu explained Hong Kong authorities could use two grounds for investigating religious groups for "money laundering": receiving church donations from overseas and hosting conferences with guests from churches in other countries. This would be true especially if some funds related to the donations and the conferences have not been properly designated for a particular purpose.
Last week, police raided the Good Neighbor North District Church's Kwun Tong and Fanling branches. The authorities accused the church of falsely declaring they raised less than the HK$27 million they collected through crowd funding campaigns from June 2019 to September 2020.
The Good Neighbor North District Church has been registered as a tax-exempt charity group since 2016, according to human rights watchdog China Aid.
The raid happened after HSBC froze the accounts of the church pastor, Roy Chan, that of his wife, and that of the church.
The account of Lau Ka-tung, a social worker who worked for the church, was also frozen. Lau participated in the 2019 anti-extradition bill protest. He was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison. Lau was released with a bail of HK$100,000. He appealed his case in September, after which he began to work for the church.
HSBC apparently received orders from the police to freeze the said accounts.
After this, the police dispatched a team to search the church's Kwun Tong venue, and another one was later sent to its Fanling venue. They arrested Lau along with several social workers.
Chan took to Facebook saying HSBC's action left him and his family with no money for their living expenses. He said the freezing of their accounts was an act to suppress religion.
Chan believes the freezing of the HSBC accounts and the church raid were done as a form of "political retaliation" because the church showed support to the protesters.
In 2019, the Good Neighbor North District Church began its "Protect Our Children" campaign to protect young protesters against violent confrontations with the authorities. Chan was arrested, and when the New Security Law was passed, he and his family moved to England.
Hong Kong's controversial extradition bill, which sparked the violent protests, allows extraditions to China and the hearing of trials in CCP-controlled courts.
In June, China established the national security law in Hong Kong to target pro-democracy activists and dissidents. The following month, Hong Kong set up its national security department, giving way for the previously covert national security organizations to operate publicly. To date, authorities have arrested 20 people under the national security law.