American pastors who traveled to Hong Kong to support the months-long pro-democracy demonstrations say they faced tear gas and water cannons as they stood in solidarity with student demonstrators during one of the most dynamic five-day stretches of the protests.
Rev. Bill Devlin of the Infinity Bible Church in New York City and Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition were in Hong Kong from Nov. 13 until Nov. 18. They were present as police besieged Hong Kong Polytechnic University where students barricaded themselves in and clashed with riot police.
Devlin and Mahoney say they spent time between PolyU on the Kowloon peninsula and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Their objective was the share the love of Jesus Christ, pray with demonstrators and encourage them in their call for democracy, liberty and human rights.
“We spent five days there. We met hundreds of students and young people. And we were right in the middle of everything: rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons,” Devlin told The Christian Post.
“And I forget how many times I personally got tear-gassed. But we were there to basically encourage the people fighting for democracy and human rights to say: ‘You’re not alone.”
Although they wore gas masks, Mahoney recalled the pain when tear gas got into his eyes.
“We were praying in the streets. I didn’t have my goggles on. I had my glasses and I thought that would be good enough,” he told CP. “The tear gas fell right at my feet and within 10 seconds my eyes were on fire and I couldn’t see. It was about three minutes before I could see. I had to wash it out with one of those spray things of saline solution.”
Pro-democracy demonstrators object to what they see as the Chinese government’s interference with the semi-autonomy that was promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Under the agreement that expires in 2047, Hong Kong is a special administrative region that maintains governing and economic systems separate from mainland China. Protesters object to legislation that would allow Hong Kong authorities to extradite fugitives wanted in mainland China. Critics fear such action would undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and subject Hong Kong residents to Chian’s legal system.
“[T]he persecution and the oppressive nature of the mainland Chinese government in 1997 is not what it is today,” Mahoney said. “Under President Xi, churches have been bulldozed. Christians are being thrown into jail. Uighurs are being put in internment camps.”
“When this 50 years ends and [Hong Kong] becomes part of mainland China, we know right now they will be persecuted,” Mahoney added. “They will be brutalized, they won’t be able to get a job, their churches will be monitored.”
Devlin, a regular participant in the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Roundtable who regularly travels the globe to support persecuted communities through his charity, explained that he spent the better part of three days with the student protesters at PolyU.
PolyU was blockaded by riot police toward the end of the pastors’ trip on Nov. 17. The school was the last of a handful of campuses that pro-democracy protesters had occupied in addition to blocking the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links the peninsula of Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.
Devlin said that authorities issued a warning to protesters barricaded on campus that they would have to leave by 8 p.m. on Nov. 17 if they wanted to leave without getting arrested.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith