China has appointed an official who spearheaded the removal of hundreds of crosses from churches to a key position overseeing affairs in Hong Kong and Macau.
Xia Baolong, vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, oversaw the campaign against the churches in Zhejiang, a province in eastern China.
He is close to Chinese president Xi Jinping, having been his deputy when Xi was party secretary in Zhejiang.
During Xia's campaign against the churches, some 1,000 crosses were removed from churches, according to the South China Morning Post. Some churches were demolished completely.
"A lot of people celebrated when he left Zhejiang three years ago," political analyst Wen Kejian told the newspaper.
An unnamed pastor told International Christian Concern he was concerned for Hong Kong churches following the appointment of Xia.
"This shift is not a good situation. It is possible that Xia will oppress the churches in Hong Kong," the pastor said.
Christians in Hong Kong have long been concerned about their future under China but these fears escalated after the introduction of an extradition bill last year that would have made it possible for the special administrative region's citizens to be sent to mainalnd China for trial.
The bill sparked large-scale protests across the city despite its withdrawal from legislative business. The protests have continued, although the outbreak of the coronavirus has dented attendance in recent weeks.
Ying Fuk-tsang, head of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's divinity school, told the Hong Kong Christian Times that with the arrival of Xia, religious freedom stands to be affected.
"The appointment of Xia can be seen as Beijing's adjustment towards Hong Kong/Macau policy, 'it will only be tighter'. [...] When the overall environment is tightening, as an indispensable part of civil liberties, religious freedom would also be affected as a result," he said.