In late August this year, I visited Wong Tai Sin Temple for the first time. Outside the gates of the temple were many people holding up banners. The small banners were from people that supported the religious movement of Falun Gong, a movement that is branded as a “cult” in the mainland and therefore banned; the big banners were held up by protesters that were anti-Falun Gong. While talking to one of the pro-Falun Gong women, I found out she was from Taiwan, trying to show the good side of the religion to the many mainland Chinese tourists that visit the temple in large organized groups. After talking to her, I walked away, surprised about the freedom that people in Hong Kong have to protest for or against a religious organization like the Falun Gong.
About one and a half month ago, I decided to take the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island instead of the metro. While walking towards the ferry pier, I say many sign boards, put there by people that support the Falun Gong. When walking past the same spot a few days ago, most of the sign boards were covered by anti-Falun Gong banners. Again, protests pro and anti a religious movement in a place that attracts many mainland Chinese visitors.
There are many more of such places, where more and more anti-Falung Gong protesters set up their banners, which read “Taiwan Falun Gong get out of Hong Kong” and “Cherish your life, stay away from the evil cult Falun Gong”.
On the one hand, one can say that the presence of these protests indicate the beauty of Hong Kong society, in which protests on religious matters can take place in a peaceful way. Police are present at around these sites, but only interfere if necessary (which, in peaceful Hong Kong society, is practically close to never). There seems to be both religious and anti-religious freedom.
However, Hong Kong people don’t see it this way. They see the anti-Falun Gong protests as evidence of the growing influence of the mainland Chinese government on Hong Kong society, since – according to them – the protests are probably make possible and sponsored by the mainland.
I find it an interesting case. The main stance of the Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau on religion is: Religious Freedom. Many people make use of this freedom every day, by wearing little crosses around their neck, by offering incense to earth gods, or by promoting Buddhism in public on large meditation events. But does religious freedom also entail anti-religious freedom: the freedom to express that you don’t belief in any religion, or even that you find religion harmful? And then of course there is also the political side of a religion, especially when talking about the Falun Gong. Are the standards of religious and anti-religious freedom different when politics are involved, like in this certain case?