Hong Kong arrests Cardinal Zen, singer over activist fund

Group accused of ‘collusion with foreign powers’ under security law for providing legal aid to people involved in 2019 protests.

Hong Kong has accused Cardinal Joseph Zen and three others who ran a fund to provide legal assistance to help those detained over the 2019 protests of “collusion with foreign powers” under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law.

The 90-year-old retired bishop of Hong Kong was arrested on Wednesday night and released on bail after being questioned for a number of hours. Pop singer Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng and academic Hui Po-Keung – all of them trustees of the now-defucnt 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund – were also arrested and released on bail.

Hong Kong police said in a statement that its national security unit had arrested two men and two women, ranging from 45 to 90 years old for “collusion with foreign forces” on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ho is 45.

Police said they were suspected of asking for foreign sanctions. All were released on bail with their passports confiscated, the statement added.

Hui was arrested at the airport as he was leaving to take up a fellowship overseas.

The United States, which has imposed sanctions on senior Hong Kong officials including outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam, condemned the arrests.

“Hong Kong authorities have again demonstrated they will pursue all means necessary to stifle dissent and undercut protected rights and freedoms,” Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

The Vatican said earlier on Wednesday that it was concerned about reports of Zen’s arrest.

“The Holy See has learnt the news of Cardinal Zen’s arrest with concern and is following the development of the situation very closely,” the Vatican said in a brief statement.

“Today’s arrests signal beyond a doubt that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong,” Benedict Rogers, chief executive of the rights group Hong Kong Watch said in a statement.

“We urge the international community to shine a light on this brutal crackdown and call for the immediate release of these activists.”

Beijing imposed the broadly-worded National Security Law on the territory in 2020.

As of March 31, 175 people had been arrested under the legislation which criminalises activities that Beijing deems “terrorism”, “secession” or “collusion with a foreign power” while 110 have been charged, according to a police statement on Wednesday. Many of the defendants have been denied bail by the courts, including prominent media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

The 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund disbanded last year after the city’s national security police demanded it hand over operational details, including information about its donors and beneficiaries.

Zen has also been critical of the Vatican’s decision to reach a compromise with Beijing over the appointment of bishops on the Chinese mainland and is a well-known advocate for Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

“Even by Hong Kong’s recent standards of worsening repression, these arrests represent a shocking escalation. Some of the city’s most respected pro-democracy figures, whose activism has always been entirely peaceful, are now potentially facing years in jail,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Wednesday.

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