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As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong retains its democratic system and preserves most of the laws it inherited from Britain's Common Law System. Under British rule, laws and prohibitions regarding blasphemy concerned the two only legally recognized churches in England: the Anglican Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Under these laws, blasphemy of the Christian religion was outlawed.
After the 1997 turnover of Hong Kong to the Chinese government, the British blasphemy laws were effectively nullified; the mainland's communist government currently takes an atheist stance on religion officially.
Today, the freedom of Hong Kong's press is enshrined in a Bill of Rights Ordinance, which has been in place since 1991, and still guarantees freedom of the press.
The reaction to the cartoons in Hong Kong remained largely peaceful, with the nature of press freedom allowing for a more open discussion of the controversy than elsewhere in Asia. 2000 Muslims conducted a peaceful rally on Feb. 17, 2005 to voice their protest. Another rally on Feb. 26 saw hundreds join in the protests. Both rallies remained entirely peaceful -- a fact much celebrated by Hong Kong’s leaders.
The peaceful nature of the protests might be explained by the relatively more open discussion of the controversy than elsewhere in Asia. Hong Kong’s defamation and blasphemy laws award a greater degree of protection to newspapers, especially in the discussion of religious questions, unlike the situation in Bangladesh, Indonesia or Malaysia, where defamation suits are regularly brought against newspapers for hurting religious sentiments.
The defamation laws in Hong Kong are also markedly different from the extremely stringent ones on the mainland. The courts do not lightly punish defendants in defamation cases, as evident in Hong Kong's unique legal precedent of damages being awarded even against the lawyers who brought defamation charges.
Hong Kong leaders' reactions to the highly controversial Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad have been relatively calm. Likewise have been the reactions of leaders of the Hong Kong Muslim community. Two peaceful rallies were held, and religious leaders such as Mohammad Arshad, the imam of the Kowloon Mosque, stressed peace and calm while in protest.
"We do not want to show our anger in a violent way because we are a peaceful people in Hong Kong," said Arshad. "We are against the violence that has broken out in other countries, that is not what Hong Kong is about. We are totally against the violence that has broken out in other countries. There is a different feeling in Hong Kong, different media sensibilities."
Ibrahim Young, the secretary of the Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, said that the Hong Kong Muslim community is different from others: "Chinese Muslims are more sensible and peaceful, because this is the atmosphere of Hong Kong. This is not a place where there has been religious conflicts, because it's more peaceful than other places.
Saeed Uddin, a member of the Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund in Hong Kong, also supported and advocated protest through peaceful means:
"We love our Prophet and God as every Muslim does, but we have our own way of explaining our reaction," he said. "It is not that I burn something, destroy something -- this is foolishness."
Date Posted: 5/18/2006
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