Cardinal, 2 others arrested in Hong Kong on security charges

Cardinal, 2 others arrested in Hong Kong on security charges

HONG KONG - Hong Kong authorities arrested a Roman Catholic cardinal, a singer and at least two others on Wednesday on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China's national security, reports said.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, singer-actress Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng and scholar Hui Po-keung were arrested by Hong Kong's national security police, the U.K.-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch said.

The group said that the arrests were related to their roles as trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided legal aid to people who took part in the pro-democracy protests that were quashed by security forces in 2019. The fund was closed in 2021, it said.

Hundreds of pro-democracy activists were arrested in a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on the Chinese territory in 2020 after the demonstrations. The city's independent media have been gutted and its legislature has been reorganized to pack it with Beijing loyalists.

Zen, 90, a retired archbishop of Hong Kong, is a fierce critic of China and has been critical of the Vatican's 2018 agreement with Beijing on bishop nominations, which he has said was a sellout of underground Christians in China.

The Holy See learned of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the evolution of the situation with extreme attention, according to Matteo Bruni, Vatican spokesman. Ho has been outspoken in her advocacy for civil and political rights. Her manager, Jelly Cheng, confirmed Ho's arrest, but said she had no other information.

Hui was arrested at Hong Kong's international airport as he tried to leave the city, Hong Kong Watch said.

Benedict Rogers said that the group's chief executive, Benedict Rogers, said that the arrests showed that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

Rogers said that the international community should shine a light on this brutal crackdown and call for the immediate release of these activists.

The White House called on China and Hong Kong authorities to stop targeting Hong Kong advocates and immediately release Zen and others who were unjustly detained and charged, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

Several leading Hong 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.

The arrests follow the selection of the new leader of Hong Kong, John Lee, a hard-line former security chief who ran unopposed in a process controlled by Beijing.

The European Union and foreign ministers from the Group of Seven Industrialized Countries - 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 retain its own political, legal and economic system for 50 years after the end of British colonial rule in 1997.

Hong Kong's government and police have no immediate comment on the reported arrests.

Maya Wang, a senior Chinese researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that a fifth person, former Legislative Council member Cyd Ho Sau-lan, had also been arrested.

Arresting Zen for his peaceful activities has been a shocking new low for Hong Kong, illustrating the city's free fall in human rights in the past two years, Wang said in a statement.