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Hong Kong national security police arrest Cardinal Joseph Zen | Hong Kong

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The Vatican has expressed concern over reports that Hong Kong national security police have arrested 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia’s oldest and most outspoken Catholic clerics.

Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong, was arrested along with singer and actress Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng and scholar Hui Po-keung.

“The Holy See has learned with concern the news of Cardinal Zen’s arrest and is following developments very closely,” the Vatican said in a statement.

Local reports had previously suggested the arrests were linked to their roles as administrators of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided legal aid and other financial assistance to people who took part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests that had were repressed by the security forces.

Hui was arrested at the airport as he was about to board a flight to Germany on Tuesday, local media reported. Another administrator, Cyd Ho, is already in prison for her alleged involvement in illegal gatherings.

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Late Wednesday evening, Hong Kong police confirmed the arrests on Tuesday and Wednesday of two men and two women, aged 45 to 90, for “alleged collusion with foreign forces”. The force said all were released on bail but had their passports confiscated under national security laws.

Last year, the city’s police department said in a statement it was investigating the charity for alleged violations of national security law. The fund has now been terminated after a company that helped receive donations through a bank account was dissolved.

Hui, an adjunct associate professor of cultural studies at Lingnan University, once taught exiled political activist Nathan Law. “If you want to punish someone, you can always find an excuse,” Law, who now lives in Britain, wrote on his Facebook page in response to Hui’s arrest.

In 2020, Cardinal Zen made a personal appeal to the Vatican in a letter, urging Pope Francis to leave politics out of the selection of Catholic bishops in Chinese territory. He failed to meet with the pope because, according to local media, the Holy See was at the time engaged in discussions with Beijing on renewing a power-sharing agreement on the ordination of bishops in Mainland China.

This week’s arrests were the latest move by authorities to enforce the controversial national security law, which was imposed on the city in June 2020. The legislation prohibits secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces . They also came less than a week after new chief executive John Lee was selected by a small number of elite voters on Sunday.

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Although authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have insisted that the national security law has brought stability to Hong Kong after the 2019 mass protests, activists have pointed out that since the enactment of the legislation, in at least 175 people were arrested and more than 110 were charged.

Reacting to the latest arrests, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Peirre urged authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong to release Zen and the other detainees.

In the UK, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Catherine West, said in a tweet that the arrests “are a further demonstration of China’s aim to eradicate opposition in Hong Kong, and are completely at odds with the freedoms promised to Hong Kong”. She urged the UK government to “work with international partners to demand the release of those detained”.

Reuters contributed to this report

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