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Cardinal Zen's arrest in Hong Kong sparks global outrage

Cardinal Zen, who recently turned 90, is a former bishop of Hong Kong and one of its most senior Catholic clerics

Cardinal Zen's arrest in Hong Kong sparks global outrage

Cardinal Joseph Zen (left) and, from left, barrister Margaret Ng, professor Hui Po-keung and singer Denise Ho attend a press conference at Salesian Missionary House in Hong Kong on Aug. 18, 2021, to announce the closure of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund established to support democracy protesters. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 11, 2022 03:04 PM GMT

Updated: May 12, 2022 04:59 PM GMT

Hong Kong’s national security police granted bail to outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen and three activists hours after arresting them on charges of “colluding with foreign forces” for their association with a now-defunct humanitarian fund for pro-democracy protesters, media reports say.

Cardinal Zen, 90, a former bishop of Hong Kong, was arrested along with senior advocate Margaret Ng, activist and pop singer Denise Ho and former academic Hui Po-keung on May 11.

Another accused and former lawmaker, Cyd Ho, was already imprisoned in a separate case and reportedly remains in jail.

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In a statement, Hong Kong police said its national security department had arrested two men and two women for “collusion with foreign forces” on May 10 and May 11, and they were suspected of asking for foreign sanctions on Hong Kong’s administration.

Police said all were released on bail but their passports have been confiscated under the national security law. 

Cardinal Zen was questioned for several hours at Chai Wan Police Station close to his church residence before his release, Reuters reported. He left the police station without making any comment to the media.

“We condemn the arrests of these activists whose supposed crime was funding legal aid for pro-democracy protesters back in 2019. Today’s arrests signal beyond a doubt that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong”

All five arrestees were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund that lent support to protesters who had been arrested and injured amid a heavy-handed crackdown on sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that swept the former British colony in 2019. The fund reportedly paid for legal and medical fess for the protesters.

The fund was revoked last year following the disbandment of a company that sponsored it by collecting donations via a bank account. The company was accused of violating the Beijing-imposed national security law and was asked to share operational details, forcing its closure.

Catholics and other citizens in Hong Kong have been divided between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps, while numerous pro-democracy supporters including leading Catholic figures like media tycoon Jimmy Lai have been arrested and jailed.

Cardinal Zen is the most high-ranking Catholic official in Hong Kong to be arrested since the repressive national security law was enacted in June 2020 by the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, a Catholic.  

Cardinal Zen has long been known as an outspoken supporter of democracy and human rights and a strong critic of China’s increasingly authoritarian rule under President Xi Jinping.

On numerous occasions, he has faced pressure from the pro-Beijing administration and media for his bold and public stance.

Earlier this year, Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, published four articles explicitly targeting Cardinal Zen and accusing him of abusing his clerical status to engage in anti-China activities and “stirring up chaos in Hong Kong.”  

The arrest of Cardinal Zen and other activists has triggered concerns and condemnation from around the world.

The Vatican, which has been mostly silent over the political troubles and erosion of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong, has expressed concern over the arrest.

"The Holy See has learned with concern the news of Cardinal Zen's arrest and is following the development of the situation with extreme attention," Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press office, told journalists.

Hong Kong Watch, a British rights watchdog, issued a statement to deplore the arrests.

“We condemn the arrests of these activists whose supposed crime was funding legal aid for pro-democracy protesters back in 2019. Today’s arrests signal beyond a doubt that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong,” Hong Kong Watch chief executive and UCA News commentator Benedict Rogers said in the statement.

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

“Just so sad. Will the arrest of Cardinal Zen — a great man — be enough to get Pope Francis to break his silence on the assault against Hong Kong’s freedoms? Don’t hold your breath"

Miriam M. Lexmann, a member of the European Parliament and former director of the International Republican Institute, also condemned the arrests and called for action against Hong Kong and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.

“I am shocked and disgusted by the arrest of the brave and peace-loving 90-year-old Cardinal Zen and trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” Lexmann said on her official Twitter page.

“It’s time for EU leaders to act and for John Lee and other HK and CCP officials to face consequences for their terror against the people of Hong Kong.”

Luke de Pulford, a London-based rights activist from anti-slavery organization Arise, called on the Vatican to break its silence over Hong Kong’s turmoil after Cardinal Zen’s arrest.

“Just so sad. Will the arrest of Cardinal Zen — a great man — be enough to get Pope Francis to break his silence on the assault against Hong Kong’s freedoms? Don’t hold your breath,” he tweeted.

Eric Yan-ho Lai, a law fellow from Hong Kong, compared Cardinal Zen’s arrest with that of Cardinal Kung Pin-mei in the 1950s for refusing to bow down to communists.  

“The arrest of Cardinal Zen echoed the arrest of Cardinal Kung Pin-mei, who was jailed by the Communist Party as he refused to surrender to the state controlling the Church in the 1950s. Many Catholic bishops were persecuted on the mainland, and now in Hong Kong,” Lai said.

Dan Lipinski, a former member of the US Congress, blasted the CCP for the arrest.

“The Chinese Communist Party apparently fears 90-year-old Catholic Cardinal Zen so much that they arrest him for his pro-democracy work. It’s appalling that China has taken over democratic Hong Kong while the world watches, mostly in silence,” Lipinski said.

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LADISLAUS LOUIS D'SOUZA
I wonder how Pope Francis who has kowtowed a great deal to China in and through the Sino-Vatican deal from which nothing good has apparently come and which has even prevented him from meeting with a man of peace, the Dalai Lama, would be able to sleep at all with this latest development.

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