Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of the most senior Catholic clerics in Asia, and four others who helped run a now-disbanded humanitarian fund for protesters, all on charges of “collusion with foreign forces,” a legal source said.
Zen, a 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong, was being held in Chai Wan police station close to his church residence, according to a police sergeant on the scene.
“He was arrested,” and is being questioned right now, said the officer, surnamed Kam, who declined to confirm the charge.
A legal source familiar with the matter told Reuters that five people had been arrested in connection with the case, including Zen; senior barrister Margaret Ng, 74; activist and pop singer Denise Ho; former lawmaker Cyd Ho; and former academic Hui Po-keung.
All were taken into custody for alleged “collusion with foreign forces,” according to the source.
Zen has long been an advocate of democratic causes in Hong Kong and mainland China, and has spoken out against China’s growing authoritarianism under President Xi Jinping, including a Beijing-imposed national security law, and the persecution of some Roman Catholics in China.
Hui had been arrested at the airport on Tuesday night, according to media reports, while Cyd Ho was already in prison for a separate case.
Zen and the others faced the same charge, media said.
Hong Kong has long been one of the most important Catholic beachheads in Asia, home to an extensive network of aid agencies, scholars and missions that have supported Catholics in mainland China and elsewhere.
Beijing imposed the sweeping national security law in June 2020 that punishes terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment.
The five were trustees of the “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund” which helped protesters who had been arrested during pro-democracy, anti-China protests in 2019 to help pay their legal and medical fees.
Reuters was not able to immediately reach Zen nor the others for comment. The Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, Vatican and the Hong Kong police gave no immediate comment.
The fund was scrapped last year after the disbandment of a company that had helped receive donations through a bank account.
The arrests come after police said last September that they had begun investigating the fund for alleged violations of the national security law.
U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said the United States was concerned about the “clampdown” in Hong Kong, including in religious circles and academia.
“All I can tell you is that I think we’re increasingly troubled by steps in Hong Kong to pressure and eliminate civil society,” Campbell told an online event in Washington when asked about the arrests.
Hui, an associate cultural studies professor at Lingnan University, had once taught exiled democracy activist Nathan Law.
“If you want to punish someone, you can always find an excuse,” Law wrote on his Facebook page in response to Hui’s arrest.
Critics, including the United States, say the security law erodes the freedoms promised by China under a “one country, two systems” arrangement when Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hong Kong authorities, however, say the law has brought stability to the city after the 2019 mass demonstrations.
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