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Hong Kong police arrest Catholic cardinal on national security charge

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.

A legal source familiar with the matter has said that five people had been arrested in connection with the case, including Zen (a 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong), senior barrister Margaret Ng (74), activist and pop singer Denise Ho, former lawmaker Cyd Ho, and former academic Hui Po-keung (an associate cultural studies professor at Lingnan University), Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The Vatican said it had learned of the arrest and was following developments very closely.

“The Holy See has learned with concern of the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the developments of the situation with extreme attention,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

The arrested 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. The fund was scrapped last year after the disbandment of a company that had helped receive donations through a bank account, and the police began investigating the fund for alleged violations of the national security law.

According to a police sergeant on the scene, Zen was being held in Chai Wan police station close to his church residence. Officer Kam, who refused to confirm the charge, said the former bishop of Hong Kong was being questioned.

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 the persecution of some Roman Catholics in China and the national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 which punishes terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment.

US 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.

Critics of the national security law, such as the United States, say that it 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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