Hong Kong police arrest ex-bishop in national security case

HONG KONG — Hong Kong police arrested three prominent activists on Wednesday, including a retired bishop and a pop star, now leader of a legal aid group, on charges of violating the city’s strict national security laws, the group’s lawyers said. .

The arrests are the latest in widespread anti-government protests in 2019 and a major crackdown after security laws came into force in the area a year later. Since the law went into effect, more than 170 people have been arrested under the law and dozens await trial.

Police arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, a former bishop. Denise Ho, a prominent Cantopop singer and LGBTQ rights activist; and lawyer and former congressman Margaret Ng. They are all directors of the 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund, an organization founded in 2019 that provided subsidies to people arrested for participating in protests.

The fund, which was closed last year, is being investigated on charges of collusion with foreign powers under the National Security Act.

All five trustees of the fund are currently under arrest or already in prison. Hee Po-kyung, a scholar who was also a director of the fund, was arrested on Tuesday. Former member Cyd Ho, who is also a member of the fund’s five-member committee, is incarcerated for trespassing.

Named after a significant date of the massive protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019, the 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund said it had received more than $30 million in donations before it closed. Of this, $27 million was distributed among arrested protesters for legal expenses, bail, medical expenses, counseling and emergency financial assistance.

Protests have started over proposals allowing extradition to mainland China, calling for greater democratic freedom and including investigations into police use of force. More than 10,000 people were arrested. The fund said it had helped 2,221 of the more than 2,500 people charged with protesting crimes.

Last year, police announced that the fund was being investigated for possible security violations. The partner organization has been shut down and then shut down, with no access to funds.

The fund’s leadership includes some of Hong Kong’s most prominent activists.

Cardinal Jen, a former bishop of Hong Kong, has long criticized the Chinese government’s restrictions on freedom of religion and expression and tightening crackdowns on Hong Kong. He took part in the march regularly and frequently attends the trials of those still facing protest charges.

Human rights activists condemned his arrest on Wednesday.

“The arrest of a 90-year-old cardinal for peaceful activities set a shocking new record in Hong Kong,” said Maya Wang, a senior research fellow for China at Human Rights Watch. , said in a statement.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said: “The Holy See has received the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen with concern and is paying extreme attention to the development of the situation.”

Former MP Ng had previously been convicted of organizing peaceful protests in 2019. She and Ho were arrested last year along with other executives from the now defunct pro-democracy news website Stand News. Publishing provocative material.

Elizabeth Poboledo Reported from Rome.

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