Hong Kong police arrest former bishop over national security case

HONG KONG – Hong Kong police arrested three prominent activists on Wednesday, including a retired bishop and pop star who were leaders of a legal aid organization now being investigated for suspected violations of city regulations. strict national security lawa lawyer from the group said.

The arrests are the latest in a broad crackdown following widespread anti-government protests in 2019 and the imposition of the land security law a year later. More than 170 people have been arrested under the law since it was implemented and dozens are in custody awaiting trial.

Police arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen, a 90-year-old former bishop; Denise Ho, a prominent Cantopop singer and LGBTQ rights activist; and Margaret Ng, a lawyer and former lawmaker. They were all administrators of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, an organization founded in 2019 to provide grants to people arrested for participating in demonstrations.

The fund, which closed last year, is under investigation for collusion with foreign forces, a crime envisaged by the national security law.

All five of the fund’s trustees have now been arrested or are already in prison. Hui Po-keung, a scholar who was also the fund’s administrator, was arrested on Tuesday. Cyd Ho, a former lawmaker who was also a member of the fund’s five-person board, is serving a prison sentence for unauthorized meeting.

The 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, named after a pivotal date in the mass protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019, said it raised more than $ 30 million in donations before closing. Of these, $ 27 million was said to have been distributed to protesters arrested for legal fees, bail, medical bills, advice and emergency financial assistance.

The protests began on a proposal that would have allowed extradition to mainland China and have grown to include calls for more democratic freedoms and investigations into the use of force by the police. More than 10,000 people were arrested. The fund said that of more than 2,500 people accused of protest offenses, 2,221 had assisted.

Last year, police announced that they were investigating the fund for possible security law violations. It shuts down after a partner organization closes, leaving it with no access to funds.

The fund’s leadership included some of Hong Kong’s best-known activists.

Cardinal Zen is a former Hong Kong bishop who has long been critical of the Chinese government for its restrictions on religion and freedom of expression and Hong Kong’s growing repression. He has regularly joined the marches and still often witnesses the trials of people facing protest charges.

Human rights defenders condemned his arrest on Wednesday.

“The arrest of a 90-year-old cardinal for his peaceful activities must be a shocking new low for Hong Kong, illustrating the city’s free fall into human rights over the past two years,” Maya Wang, senior researcher in China for Human Rights Watch, reads a note.

The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, declared: “The Holy See has learned with concern the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the evolution of the situation with extreme attention”.

Ms. Ng, the former MP, was previously convicted of staging a peaceful demonstration in 2019. She and Ms. Ho were arrested last year along with other executives from the now defunct pro-democracy news site. Stand News, which was accused of publishing seditious material.

Elisabetta Povoledo contributed with reports from Rome.