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Hong Kong arrests 90-Year-old cardinal in wider crackdown

Hong Kong arrests 90-Year-old cardinal in wider crackdown
Joseph Zen Photographer: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong’s national security police detained four prominent democracy activists on Wednesday, including a senior member of the Catholic church, prompting condemnation from the U.S. and “extreme attention” from the Vatican.

Those arrested included 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, former lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng, 74, and Canto-pop singer Denise Ho for allegations of colluding with foreign forces, according to local media reports.

All four were released on bail pending an investigation, according to a police statement late on Wednesday night. The National Security Department used a court order to require them to surrender their travel documents to the police, the statement added.

The arrests are the latest move against democracy activists in the former British colony, which has seen most prominent political opponents jailed or threatened with charges following unprecedented street protests in 2019. The police operation also comes shortly after John Lee, Hong Kong’s former security chief and a vocal supporter of the China-imposed national security law, was selected to be the city’s new leader in a contest where he was the only candidate.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre called for the immediate release of the activists, as did State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“In arresting these veteran activists, scholars, and religious leaders under the so-called national security law, Hong Kong authorities have again demonstrated that they will pursue all means necessary to stifle dissent and undercut protected rights and freedoms,” he said.

‘Ominous sign’

Matteo Bruni, a spokesman for the Vatican, was cited by Italy’s Ansa news agency as saying “The Holy See has learned with concern the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the evolution of the situation with extreme attention.”

The cardinal and the other two were among five trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was established to provide financial assistance to those involved in anti-government protests in 2019 and came under intense scrutiny by the authorities over the past year, according to the report, citing people it didn’t identify. A fourth trustee, Hui Po Keung, was arrested Tuesday as he was about to leave for Germany, according to the South China Morning Post.

“Arresting a 90-year-old cardinal for his peaceful activities has to be a shocking new low for Hong Kong, illustrating the city’s free fall in human rights in the past two years,” Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. The arrests are “an ominous sign” that China’s crackdown on Hong Kong “is only going to escalate,” she added.

The arrests come a day before President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Washington, where they are set to discuss “regional and international issues of common interest and concern.” BM

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