HONG KONG (AP) — A 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal, a singer and at least two others have been arrested in Hong Kong on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security, in an action widely condemned as another sign of the erosion of Beijing’s rights in the city.
The arrests further expand a sweeping crackdown on all forms of dissent in the city that appears increasingly vindictive in continuing actions taken before the national security law was enacted. The crackdown is increasingly penetrating the city’s long-standing economic, religious and educational institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations, many of which have closed their operations in Hong Kong.
A police statement said arrests were made on Wednesday of two men and two women aged between 45 and 90 who were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided legal aid to people who took part in the protests. democracy of 2019 which were canceled 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 had been ordered to hand over their travel documents and would be released under caution.
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Further arrests in the case are ongoing, said the statement from police, who did not identify those detained by name.
“Police investigations show that the above-mentioned individuals are all trustees of the ‘612 Humanitarian Support Fund’, suspected of making requests for foreign or foreign agencies, imposing sanctions on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (and ) to endanger national security,” the statement said.
Those involved have been identified by rights groups as Cardinal Joseph Zen, singer-actress Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng, academic Hui Po-keung and former Legislative Council member Cyd Ho Saulan. It was unclear whether Hui had been officially 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 protests, including veteran lawmaker Martin Lee and publisher Jimmy Lai. The city’s independent media has been gutted and its legislature reorganized to fill it with Beijing loyalists.
Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, is a fierce critic of China and was scathing in his condemnation of the Vatican’s 2018 deal with Beijing on bishop appointments, which he said was a betrayal of 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 developments with extreme attention.”
Ho was also outspoken in his 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 sought to leave the city, British human rights group Hong Kong Watch said.
“Today’s arrests are a clear signal that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on fundamental rights and freedoms in Hong Kong,” said the group’s chief executive, Benedict Rogers.
“We urge the international community to shed light on this brutal crackdown and call for the immediate release of these activists,” Rogers said.
The White House has also called on authorities in China and Hong Kong to stop targeting Hong Kong defenders and immediately release Zen and others “wrongfully detained and charged”, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday. .
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 center of 7.4 million inhabitants.
Arrests follow one another Sunday’s selection of Hong Kong’s new leader, John Lee, a former hardline security chief who ran unopposed in a Beijing-controlled process and faces US sanctions for his role in the 2019 crackdown and subsequent events.
The European Union and the foreign ministers of the industrialized countries of the Group of Seven – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – condemned the election as fundamentally undemocratic and a betrayal of the “one country, two systems” principle 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, Human Rights Watch’s senior China researcher, said Zen’s arrest for his peaceful activities “must be a shocking new low for Hong Kong, illustrating the plummeting human rights situation in the city in over the past two years”.
Zen’s arrest marks “the darkest day yet in the Chinese Communist Party’s gradual destruction of the vitality of Hong Kong and is likely to prompt a re-examination by the Vatican of its years-long diplomatic engagement with Beijing in the subject of the ordination of bishops,” said Lionel Jensen, an associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of Notre Dame, who helped bring Zen to the American school in 2019. .
The arrests were also condemned by US politicians, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying it showed the ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping were “afraid of truth tellers and qualify them as threats. national security.”
Xi is “absolutely terrified of a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal. Xi is a pathetic coward,” Sasse said in a statement.
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