Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, and other pro-democracy activists arrested with him are accused of “conspiring with foreign states and powers,” the office of Beijing’s Hong Kong envoy said on Thursday.
They conspired to endanger national security – this is “a serious act,” said the office representing the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong.
Released on bail
The independent Internet portal Hong Kong Free Press circulated a photo of the cardinal with a mask on Twitter on Wednesday evening and the information that the 90-year-old Zen had been released from police headquarters on bail.
He then left the place in a private car without further explanation. According to local reports on Wednesday, the former bishop of Hong Kong and prominent critic of the Chinese government was previously detained along with two others by the National Security Police.
The other two are reportedly former opposition MP and lawyer Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who has also been released on bail, according to the Hong Kong Free Press, and lesbian and gay rights activist and singer Denise Ho Wan-sze .
All four suspects were managers of a now-defunct relief fund that provided financial support to protesters arrested during the 2019 mass protests.
The so-called Security Law, imposed by Beijing in July 2020, allows Hong Kong authorities to take draconian action against any activity they deem a threat to China’s national security. More than 180 Hong Kongers are currently being detained under this law; the accused are usually not released on bail and face long prison sentences.
According to the reports, all those arrested are accused of “collusion with foreign forces”. The cultural scientist Hui Po-keung was also arrested at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday, it said.
In all, five people were reportedly arrested who, like Zen, were involved as trustees in managing a now-defunct humanitarian fund for demonstrators in the 2019 anti-Beijing pro-democracy protests.
The Vatican expressed “concern” after the arrest. The Holy See is following further developments “with very great attention,” said Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni. The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing (Limburg), wrote on Twitter that the process fills him with “great concern”.
Another tweet from the German Bishops’ Conference said: “For decades, Cardinal Zen has been an uncomfortable and incorruptible fighter for the freedom of the people against the arrogance of the communist state power, which has meanwhile also brought Hong Kong under its control.”
Cardinal Zen is one of the most influential Catholic representatives in Asia. Beyond his tenure, the Salesian monk of Don Bosco is one of the prominent critics of the Chinese government and its religious policy, and recently increasingly of the Vatican and its China policy.
Human Rights Watch said: “The arrest of a 90-year-old cardinal for his peaceful activities marks a shocking new low for Hong Kong and illustrates the free fall of human rights in the city over the past two years.”
Human Rights Watch: “Ominous Sign”
It went on to say: “The arrests following the Chinese government’s appointment of former security chief John Lee as the city’s head of government are an ominous sign that the crackdown in Hong Kong will escalate.” on Sunday (May 8) as the new head of government of Hong Kong.