Cardinal’s arrest raises awareness of Hong Kong’s repression


The arrest of a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal under Hong Kong’s national security law has sparked international outrage and deepened concerns about China’s repression of freedom in the financial center.

Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia’s most senior Catholic clerics, was one of the veteran democracy advocates arrested on Wednesday on charges of “collusion with foreign powers”.

Cantonese pop singer Denise Ho, veteran lawyer Margaret Ng, and eminent cultural studies scholar Hui Pokeung were also arrested at the airport, the latter trying to travel to Europe to study.

The four have been detained on charges of involvement in a now disbanded defense fund that helped pay the legal and medical expenses of those arrested in the massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that convulsed Hong Kong three years ago.

China responded to the protests with a wide-ranging campaign to quell the pro-democracy movement and transform the once ferocious city into a city more like a dictatorial mainland.

After being released on bail late Wednesday, Zen and his colleagues joined more than 180 Hong Kongers who have been arrested under national security laws to date.

Those charged are usually denied bail and face up to life in prison if convicted.

Arrested on Wednesday, Cardinal Joseph Zen sought refuge in Hong Kong after fleeing the Chinese Communist regime as a teenager. Photo: AFP / Isaac Lawrence

Criticism has come from Western countries accusing China of depriving Hong Kong of the freedoms it once promised to keep.

The US, which had previously sanctioned key Chinese officials over the ongoing repression, has urged China to “stop its attacks on Hong Kong supporters”.

“Freedom of expression is very important to a prosperous and safe society,” White House press secretary Carine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

The Vatican said it was concerned about Jen’s arrest and was “following developments very closely”.

Meanwhile, Canada said consulate officials were trying to reach Ho, a popular singer and LGTBQ activist, who has dual Hong Kong and Canadian citizenship.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie called the arrest “a serious matter”.

Democratizationist and singer Denise Ho was arrested on Wednesday and released on bail. Democratizationist and singer Denise Ho was arrested on Wednesday and released on bail. Photo: AFP / Bertha Wang

“The continued targeting of civil society organizations infringes on the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents guaranteed under the Hong Kong Basic Law,” she wrote on Twitter.

EU foreign policy director Joseph Borrell said he expressed “great concern” shortly after the arrest.

Human Rights Watch called it “Hong Kong’s shocking new low.”

“Despite the recent standards of worsening oppression in Hong Kong, these arrests represent a shocking escalation,” Amnesty International added.

Cardinal Jen left Shanghai for Hong Kong after the Communist Party came to power in China in 1949 and became the Bishop of Hong Kong.

He was critical of the Vatican’s decision to compromise with China on the appointment of a bishop in mainland China and long-term advocates for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Those arrested on Wednesday are charged with threatening national security by asking a foreign or foreign organization to impose sanctions on Hong Kong, police said.

The nationalist newspaper Ta Kung Pao, responding to the Hong Kong-based Beijing Liaison Office, published an article on Thursday detailing “six crimes” committed by the group and their defense fund.

The alleged crimes include lobbying trips with British lawmakers and financing activist meetings, providing financial assistance to Hong Kong “rioters” who fled to Canada and Taiwan, and accepting donations abroad.

He also made a donation of HK$1.3 million ($165,000) from Apple Daily, a popular democratization tabloid that collapsed after assets were frozen under the security law last year.

However, most of the alleged acts mentioned by Ta Kung Pao occurred before the enactment of the National Security Law, which should not be applied retroactively.

The newspaper and its sister publication Wen Wei Po often herald action by the Hong Kong National Security Police, and the Defense Fund was previously covered.

The fund was disbanded last year after national security police demanded hand over operational details, including information about donors and beneficiaries.

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