HONG KONG (AP) — A 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal, a singer and at least two other people have been arrested in Hong Kong on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security, in a move widely condemned as a sign of the erosion of Beijing’s rights in the city.
The arrests further amplify the blanket crackdown on all forms of dissent in the city that appears increasingly vindictive in prosecuting actions taken before the national security law was enacted. The crackdown is reaching deeper into the city’s respected economic, religious and educational institutions, along with non-governmental organizations, many of which have closed their operations in Hong Kong.
A police statement said that arrests were made on Wednesday against two men and two women between the ages of 45 and 90 who were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided legal assistance to people who participated in the protests in favor of the democracy of 2019 that were put down by security forces.
Another person, identified only as a 37-year-old man, was cited for failing to properly register the fund, which closed in 2021. Those arrested were ordered to surrender their travel documents and would be released on bail.
More arrests are pending in the case, said the police statement, which did not identify those arrested by name.
“Police investigations show that the above-mentioned persons are all trustees of the ‘612 Humanitarian Support Fund’, suspected of making requests from foreign or overseas agencies, imposing sanctions on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (and) endangering the national security,” the statement said. the statement said.
Human rights groups identified those involved as Cardinal Joseph Zen, singer and actress Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po-keung and former Legislative Council member Cyd Ho Sau-lan. It was not clear if Hui had been formally arrested. Zen was seen leaving a police station shortly before midnight on Wednesday.
Dozens of 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 its legislature reshuffled to fill it with Beijing loyalists.
Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, is a fierce critic of China and has been fierce in his condemnation. of the Vatican’s 2018 deal with Beijing on bishop nominations, which he says was a betrayal by underground Christians in China.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Holy See “learned 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 defense of civil and political rights. Her manager, Jelly Cheng, confirmed Ho’s arrest but said she had no further information.
Hui was arrested at Hong Kong international airport as 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 intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong,” said the group’s executive director, Benedict Rogers.
“We urge the international community to shine a light on this brutal crackdown and demand 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 defenders and immediately release Zen and others who were “wrongfully detained and charged,” Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Jane said on Wednesday. Pierre.
Several prominent 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 hub of 7.4 million people.
The arrests follow Sunday’s selection of Hong Kong’s new leader, John Lee, a hard-line former security chief who ran unopposed in a process controlled by Beijing 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 United Kingdom and the United States) condemned the elections as fundamentally undemocratic and a betrayal of the principle of ” one country, two systems” under 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, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said arresting Zen for his peaceful activities “has to be a shocking new low for Hong Kong, illustrating the free fall of human rights in the city over the past two years.” ”.
Zen’s arrest marks “the darkest day to date in the Chinese Communist Party’s creeping destruction of Hong Kong’s vitality and is likely to prompt a reconsideration by the Vatican of its multi-year diplomatic engagement with 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 helped welcome Zen to the US school in 2019.
The arrests were also condemned by US politicians, with Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, saying they showed the ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping were “afraid of truth tellers and labeled as threats. to national security.”
Xi is “absolutely terrified of a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal. Xi is a pathetic coward,” Sasse said in a statement.