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Hong Kong arrests pro-democracy cardinal, singer and two others, reports say

Protesters holding placards in Hong Kong
Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, foreground, holds a placard demanding respect for religious freedom in Hong Kong.
(Kin Cheung / Associated Press)
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Hong Kong authorities arrested a Roman Catholic cardinal, a singer and two others Wednesday on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security, reports said — another demonstration of the reach of a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, singer-actor Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng and scholar Hui Po-keung were detained by Hong Kong’s National Security Police, the British-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch said.

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

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Scores of pro-democracy activists have been arrested under the sweeping national security law, which was imposed in 2020 after the demonstrations. Hong Kong’s independent media have been gutted and its legislature reorganized to include Beijing loyalists almost exclusively.

Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, is a fierce critic of China and has been blistering in his condemnation of the Vatican’s 2018 agreement with Beijing over bishop nominations, which he has said was a sellout of underground Christians in China.

The Vatican didn’t immediately respond when asked for comment on his reported arrest.

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Ho has also been outspoken in her advocacy of 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 sought to leave the city, Hong Kong Watch said.

“Today’s arrests signal beyond a doubt that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong,” said the group’s chief executive, Benedict Rogers.

“We urge the international community to shine a light on this brutal crackdown and call for the immediate release of these activists,” Rogers said.

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Several leading Hong Kong activists have fled to Taiwan, Britain and elsewhere, along with thousands of others who have chosen to leave the city, raising concerns about the financial hub’s economic future.

The arrests follow the selection Sunday of Hong Kong’s new leader, 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 7 industrialized countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the U.S. — 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 had no immediate comment on the reported arrests.

Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch’s senior China researcher, said she understood that a fifth person, former Legislative Council member Cyd Ho Sau-lan, had also been arrested.

Arresting Zen for his peaceful activities “has to be 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.

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