China justifies the arrest of a cardinal in Hong Kong

China on Thursday used the national security law to justify the arrest of a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal in Hong Kong, an act that sparked international outrage and stoked concerns about deepening repression in the financial hub.

One of Asia’s most prominent Catholic cleric, retired prelate Joseph Zen, was among a group of figures from the pro-democracy movement arrested on Wednesday for “collaborating with foreign forces”.

Also arrested were singer Denise Ho, LGBTQ rights activist, lawyer Margaret Ng and academic Hui Po-keung, the latter at the airport as he was preparing to leave for Europe, where he had obtained a position at the university .

“The individuals involved are suspected of conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security — a serious act,” the commissioner’s office, which represents the State Department, said in a statement. from Beijing to Hong Kong.

All four were arrested for helping manage a now-defunct fund, the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was designed to fund the defense of activists killed in action during the huge pro-democracy demonstrations that rocked the former British colony were arrested in 2019.

Beijing has put an end to this massive protest movement, turning Hong Kong, long seen as a bastion of free speech, into a territory under the growing influence of authoritarian China.

Mr Zen and the other three figures, all released on bail Wednesday night, join more than 180 Hong Kongers who have been arrested in the name of the harsh national security law Beijing imposed in June 2020.

Shocking escalation»

The accused are usually not released on bail and can be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Several Western countries have accused China of wanting to end promised freedoms on the territory after the former British colony was returned in 1997.

The United States urged Beijing “to stop targeting those defending Hong Kong” and the Vatican said it was “monitoring the evolving situation with the utmost attention”.

Canada’s foreign minister called the arrests “deeply concerning” and European Union chief of diplomacy Josep Borrell expressed his “great concern”.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch denounced a “shocking new decline for Hong Kong”.

“Considering the recent intensification of repression in Hong Kong, these arrests represent a terrible and shocking escalation,” Amnesty International added.

Cardinal Zen left Shanghai after the communists took power in China in 1949 and became bishop of Hong Kong, where about 400,000 Catholics live.

He had been particularly critical of the compromise reached between the Holy See and Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China and has long been known as a tireless defender of the democracy movement.

In recent years, Hong Kong’s Catholic hierarchy, including the followers of Zen, has been much less vocal about Beijing.

Sword of Damocles”

His arrest shocked Hong Kong’s Catholic community, which, unlike the mainland, is free to practice its faith without government oversight.

“Cardinal Zen’s arrest is a blow to the whole Church in Hong Kong, China and the world,” Franco Mella, 73, an Italian missionary based in Hong Kong, told AFP.

“It has become apparent that there is a sword of Damocles hanging over Zen and the other members of the Church.”

Laura, a layperson who attended a church on Thursday, said worshipers feared Hong Kong would become like China on religious matters.

Ta Kung Pao, a nationalist newspaper of the Beijing Liaison Office in Hong Kong, published an article Thursday detailing “six crimes” allegedly committed by the group and its defense fund.

He also reported on a HK$1.3 million donation from Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper that was forced to shut down last year after its assets were frozen under security law.

Most of the alleged facts mentioned by Ta Kung Pao occurred before the enactment of this law, which is said to be non-retroactive.

The fund was taken down last year after national security police demanded access to information about its donors and beneficiaries.

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