One of the Catholic Church’s most senior members has been arrested in Hong Kong for breaking China’s national security law, police have confirmed.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, was one of four people detained for being associated with a now-defunct organisation that helped protesters in financial need.
The others were a Cantopop singer and actor Denise, Ho, ex-legislator, Margaret Ng, and academic, Dr Hui Po Keung.
They were accused of colluding with foreign forces.
If found guilty, they could face life imprisonment.
Human Rights Watch called it a “shocking new low for Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong Police told the BBC that the group was suspected of appealing to foreign countries or organisations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong, hence threatening China’s national security.
Cardinal Zen fled Shanghai for Hong Kong after the communists took over China 70 years ago, and was a former bishop of Hong Kong. He has long been a critic of the government in Beijing, speaking out for Catholics in mainland China and for more democracy in Hong Kong.
He once publicly admonished the Vatican for “selling out” to China by forcing bishops to retire in favour of replacements picked by Beijing.
“Arresting a 90-year-old cardinal 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,” Human Rights Watch said.
The Vatican was concerned about the cardinal’s arrest, spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said in a statement.
Dr Hui, a scholar with Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, was arrested at the airport as he tried to flee to Europe to take up an academic posting, Hong Kong Free Press reported, citing two legal sources.
This was the second time Denise Ho has been arrested in as many months – she was detained late last year under the same law.
Margaret Ng has also been arrested in the past – in 2021 she was handed a one year suspended sentence for participating in unauthorised demonstrations. During the hearing, the barrister dismissed her own lawyer and gave such a rousing speech, the court erupted into applause.
Hong Kong Police told the BBC the four defendants would be released on bail, but must hand over their passports. -BBC