Hong Kong police bail Catholic cardinal arrested on national security charges

HONG KONG, May 11 (Reuters) – Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of the most prominent Catholic clergy in Asia, and three others who helped run a now-dissolved Hong Kong fund for protesters, were arrested by charges of “conspiracy with foreign troops”, and later released on bail.

Zen, a 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong, was questioned for several hours on Wednesday at the Chai Wan police station, close to his church residence, before being released on bail. The silver-haired Zen, dressed in a white clerical collar, left without commenting on the media.

Local police said in a statement that the police’s national security division had arrested two men and two women, ranging from 45 to 90 years old, on Tuesday and Wednesday for “conspiracy with foreign troops”.

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Police said they were suspected of soliciting foreign sanctions. All were released on bail and their passports had been seized under national security law, police said.

A legal source familiar with the case had previously told Reuters that five people had been arrested in connection with the case: Zen; senior attorney Margaret Ng, 74; activist and pop singer Denise Ho; former legislator Cyd Ho; and former academic Hui Po-keung.

Zen has long been a supporter of democratic goals in Hong Kong and mainland China, and has spoken out against China’s growing authoritarianism under President Xi Jinping, including a Beijing-imposed national security law and the persecution of some Roman Catholics in China. .

Hui was arrested at the airport Tuesday night, according to media reports, while Cyd Ho was already in jail on a separate case.

The five were administrators of the “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” which helped protesters arrested in 2019 during pro-democracy, anti-China protests to pay their legal and medical costs.

INVOLVED VATICAN

Hong Kong has long been one of the most important Catholic beachheads in Asia, home to an extensive network of aid organizations, scholars and missions that have supported Catholics in mainland China and elsewhere.

Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in June 2020 that punishes terrorism, collusion with foreign troops, subversion and secession with the possible life sentence.

The Vatican said on Wednesday it learned “with concern” of the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen in Hong Kong and was monitoring developments “with extreme attention”.

Reuters could not immediately reach the others for comment. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong did not immediately comment.

The “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund” was scrapped last year after the dissolution of a company that had helped receive donations through a bank account.

The arrests come after police said last September they had begun investigating the fund for alleged violations of national security law.

US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said the United States was concerned about the “clampdown” in Hong Kong, including in religious circles and academia.

“All I can tell you is that I think we are increasingly affected by moves in Hong Kong to pressure and take out civil society,” Campbell told an online event in Washington when asked about the arrests.

Hui, an associate professor of cultural studies at Lingnan University, had once taught exiled democracy activist Nathan Law.

“If you want to punish someone, you can always find an excuse,” Law wrote on his Facebook page in response to Hui’s arrest.

Critics, including the United States, say the security law affects the freedoms China promised under a “one country, two systems” arrangement when Hong Kong was returned from British rule to Chinese rule in 1997.

However, Hong Kong authorities say the law has brought stability to the city after the 2019 mass demonstrations.

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Reporting by Jessie Pang, James Pomfret, Greg Torode and the Hong Kong editors; additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina in Washington; adaptation by Nick Macfie, Mark Heinrich and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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