Myanmar's Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, a regional Catholic Church One of Asia's most prominent has criticized China's new security law in Hong Kong saying it "destroys the city's high degree of autonomy."
Bo is the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences and called for all people in Asia to pray for Hong Kong and China "with great insistence."
"I am concerned that the law poses a threat to basic freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong.
"This legislation potentially undermines freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, media freedom and academic freedom. Arguably, freedom of religion or belief is put at risk," he said, the Catholic publication Crux reported July 2.
Conversely, the Anglican Archbishop of Hong Kong, Paul Kwong, has backed the new security law introduced by China.
He said that international criticism of the law, which gives the state wide-ranging powers to suppress opposition, is not an expression "of Christian charity but of anti-China sentiment."
'SERIOUS VIOLATION OF ACCORD'
The UK Government has described the new law as a "clear and serious violation" of the terms under which it handed Hong Kong back to China. It has offered three million Hong Kong residents a path to British citizenship.
Archbishop Kwong defended the law in a strongly worded letter to the Church Times newspaper.
He wrote that he welcomes the new national security law, "although it is one that I wish were not necessary" and insisted it will not threaten religious freedom.
For his part, Bo, in his July 1 statement said China's action "brings a most significant change to Hong Kong's constitution and is offensive to the spirit and letter of the 1997 handover agreement" with the United Kingdom.
The 1984 Joint Declaration signed by Britain and China on the handover of Hong Kong said that the city would have its own special status.
That accord preserved the freedoms Hong Kong had under British sovereignty after it was transferred to China, creating the "one country, two systems" policy.
The new security law came into effect on June 30 and outlaws secessionist, subversive and terrorist acts, as well as any collusion with foreign powers in interfering in the city's affairs.
It allows suspects to be sent to stand trial in mainland China if Beijing deems that it has jurisdiction.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says the Beijing-imposed legislation "is a clear and serious violation" of the 1984 agreement.
Cardinal Bo said that while a national security law "is not in itself wrong," he said "such legislation should be balanced with protection of human rights, human dignity and basic freedoms."
"Hong Kong is one of the jewels of Asia, a 'Pearl of the Orient,' a crossroads between East and West, a gateway to China, a regional hub for free trade and until now has enjoyed a healthy mixture of freedom and creativity," the cardinal said.
"The imposition of the law by China's National People's Congress seriously weakens Hong Kong's Legislative Council and Hong Kong's autonomy. It radically changes Hong Kong's identity," he added.
Bo noted that that religious institutions on Mainland China are "suffering the most severe restrictions experienced since the Cultural Revolution."
"Even if freedom of worship in Hong Kong is not directly or immediately affected, the new security law and its broad criminalization of 'subversion,' 'secession' and 'colluding with foreign political forces' could result, for example, in the monitoring of religious preaching," the cardinal said.
It could result in the criminalization of candlelit prayer vigils, and the harassment of places of worship that offer sanctuary or sustenance to protesters.
ARCHBISHOP SUPPORTS NEW LAW
Anglican archbishop Kwong said that he supports the right to peaceful protest.
But in his letter he said months of "wider violence", which Hong Kong's legislature had failed to quell, had made the law "necessary for our wellbeing".
The rioters had committed acts "which cannot be tolerated in any country".
European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs Joseph Borrell said in a statement last week that the EU took stock of serious challenges to Hong Kong's autonomy, stability and freedoms over the past year: "[W]e will not simply stand back and watch as China attempts to curtail these freedoms even more, with its imposition of the draconian national security law."
"It is in the whole world's interest that Hong Kong can thrive both as a part of China and as a vibrant and unique international business center and crossroad of cultures based on its high degree of autonomy as enshrined in the Basic Law."