HONG KONG (AP) – A 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal, a singer and at least two others have been arrested in Hong Kong on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security, in an action widely publicized is condemned as a further sign of Beijing’s erosion of rights in the city.
The arrests expand a widespread crackdown on all forms of dissent in the city, which appears increasingly vindictive in prosecuting actions carried out prior to the enactment of the National Security Act. The crackdown is further penetrating the city’s long-respected economic, religious and educational institutions, along with non-governmental organizations, many of which have ceased operations in Hong Kong.
A police statement on Wednesday said it made arrests of two men and two women, aged 45 to 90, who were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided legal aid to people who took part in 2019 pro-democracy protests that were destroyed by security forces.
Another person, identified only as a 37-year-old man, was subpoenaed for failing to properly register the fund, which closed in 2021. The detainees had been ordered to surrender their travel documents and were to be released on bail.
Further arrests in the case are pending, the police statement said, which did not identify the detainees by name.
“Police investigations show that the above individuals are all trustees of the ‘612 Humanitarian Support Fund’, suspected of making solicitations to foreign or overseas agencies, imposing sanctions on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (and) endangering of national security,” the spokesman said. statement said.
Those involved were identified by human rights groups as Cardinal Joseph Zen, singer-actress Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po-keung and former Legislative Council member Cyd Ho Sau-lan. It was not clear whether Hui had been formally arrested. Zen was seen leaving a police station shortly before midnight on Wednesday.
Numerous pro-democracy activists have been arrested under a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020 following the demonstrations, including veteran lawmaker Martin Lee and publisher Jimmy Lai. The city’s independent media has been gutted and the legislature has been reorganized to keep up with Beijing loyalists.
Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, is a fierce critic of China and flares up in his denunciation of the Vatican’s 2018 agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops, which he said was a sell-out of underground Christians in China.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Holy See “has noted with concern the news of Cardinal Zen’s arrest and is following the evolution of the situation with extreme attention”.
Ho has also been outspoken in her advocacy of civil and political rights. Her manager, Jelly Cheng, confirmed Ho’s arrest, but said she had no other information.
Hui was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport when he tried to leave the city, the UK-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch said.
“Today’s arrests indicate beyond any doubt that Beijing intends to step up its crackdown on fundamental rights and freedoms in Hong Kong,” said the group’s director, Benedict Rogers.
“We urge the international community to shine a light on this brutal act and call for the immediate release of these activists,” Rogers said.
The White House also called on authorities in China and Hong Kong to stop targeting Hong Kong supporters and immediately release Zen and others who have been “unjustly detained and charged”, Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.
Several leading Kong Kong activists have fled to Taiwan, Britain or elsewhere, while thousands of other Hong Kongers have chosen to leave the city, raising concerns about the economic future of the Asian financial center of 7.4 million people .
The arrests follow Sunday’s selection of Hong Kong’s new leader, John Lee, a former hardline security chief who went unopposed in a Beijing-controlled trial and is under US sanctions for his role in the 2019 crackdown and subsequent events.
The European Union and the foreign ministers of the group of seven industrialized countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – condemned the elections as fundamentally undemocratic and a betrayal of the principle of “one country, two systems” in which Hong Kong was supposed to maintain its own political, legal and economic system for 50 years after the end of British colonial rule.
Maya Wang, senior investigator of Human Rights Watch China, said Zen’s arrest for his peaceful activities “must be a shocking new low for Hong Kong, illustrating the city’s human rights free fall over the past two years.” .”
Zen’s arrest marks “the darkest day yet in the Chinese Communist Party’s step-by-step destruction of Hong Kong’s vitality,” and is likely to lead to the Vatican’s reconsideration of its multi-year diplomatic commitment to Beijing over the ordination of bishops,” he said. Lionel Jensen, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame, who welcomed zen to the American School in 2019.
The arrests were also condemned by US politicians, with Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, saying it showed the ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping “were afraid of truth tellers and view them as threats.” labeled “to national security.”
Xi is “absolutely terrified of a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal. Xi is a pathetic coward,” Sasse said in a statement.