Police in Hong Kong arrested a 90-year-old retired Catholic bishop in their latest round-up of prominent freedom activists on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.
Cardinal Joseph Zen joined singer-activist Denise Ho, and Margaret Ng, an attorney and ex-Hong Kong lawmaker, in Chinese detention. The three are being investigated for alleged violations of Beijing’s strict national security law imposed on the district in 2019. Each was a trustee of the 619 Humanitarian Relief Fund offering financial support to those prosecuted for demonstrations against the Chinese crackdown.
“The fund, which was closed last year, is under investigation for colluding with foreign forces, a crime under the national security law,” the Times reported. “All five of the fund’s trustees have now been arrested or are already in prison.”
More than 170 people, according to the Times, have already been arrested since the law went into effect. Zen, whose life and career shepherding the Vatican’s mission in China was outlined by writer Christian Whiton, is not a particularly political figure, adding a twist of irony to the arrest.
Former Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who served as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom under President Donald Trump, condemned the latest arrests as a “new low” for the Chinese regime.
“China’s leadership should be sanctioned immediately for their wanton disregard of the rule of law and basic civil liberties,” Brownback wrote on Twitter.
Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, condemned the arrests in similar language.
“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,” Wang wrote on Twitter.
A spokesperson for the Vatican said “the Holy See has learned with concern the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the development of the situation with extreme attention,” according to the Catholic News Agency.
Since the implementation of China’s draconian national security law, Hong Kong residents have been at the mercy of Beijing authorities criminalizing dissent in the previously semi-autonomous district. Penalties range up to life in prison for those convicted.
Wednesday’s targeting of a religious minority is not the first time that deputies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have gone after Catholic officials. In May 2020, a pair of Chinese nuns in Hong Kong were detained for three weeks before their release into house arrest.