Vatican following Cardinal’s arrest with “extreme attention”

Cardinal Zen

The Vatican is following China’s arrest of retired Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen with “extreme attention”, says a statement from the Holy See Press.

The statement refers to the Security Police’s arrest of the 90-year old in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Hours later, Zen was released on bail.

He and three of four other trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund were arrested. (The fourth is already in jail.)

Zen, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung, barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee and gay rights activist and pop singer Denise Ho Wan-see are are suspected of:

“Making requests of foreign or overseas agencies, imposing sanctions on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (and) endangering national security,” according to a Police statement.

In 2020, a sweeping National Security Law came into force, criminalising previously protected civil liberties under the headings of “sedition“ and “foreign collusion”.

The law crushes dissent and can carry up to life in jail.

Zen is an outspoken supporter of the pro-democracy movement.

Before the law’s implementation, many Catholics, including Zen, warned that it could be used to silence the Church in Hong Kong.

The Fund

The 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund was set up to help 2019 pro-democracy protests pay legal and medical fees. The protests were squashed by security forces.

The Fund was disbanded last year after the national security police ordered it to share operational details.

This is just the beginning.

A police statement says those arrested had been ordered to surrender their travel documents and would be released on bail.

Further arrests are pending, it warns.

Condemnation for the arrests has come quickly

Benedict Rogers, who founded NGO Hong Kong Watch and is a convert to Catholicism, says: “Today’s arrests signal beyond a doubt that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

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

The cross-party All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief tweeted “This is yet another example of China’s increasing restrictions of fundamental human rights.”

David Alton, an independent member of the House of Lords, described the cardinal’s arrest as “an act of outrageous intimidation.”

Earlier this week, former security chief John Lee was named as Hong Kong’s next chief executive, succeeding Carrie Lam,.

Like Lam, Lee is a baptised Catholic.

The Hong Kong Catholic diocese also issued a statement on the arrest of Zen, a leading figure in the organisation, for the first time on Thursday afternoon.

“The Catholic diocese of Hong Kong is extremely concerned about the condition and safety of Cardinal Joseph Zen and we are offering our special prayers for him,” it said.

The diocese added that it had always upheld the rule of law and trusted it would “continue enjoying religious freedom in Hong Kong under the Basic Law” in the future.

“We urge the Hong Kong police and the judicial authorities to handle Cardinal Zen’s case in accordance with justice, taking into consideration our concrete human situation,” it added, without elaborating on what situation it was referring to.


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