Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (also, Joseph Zen), a highly visible and outspoken pro-democracy activist and the former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong, has been arrested by HK authorities, local media is reporting Wednesday.
The 90-year old church hierarch, who had been Hong Kong's Catholic bishop starting in 2002 before stepping down in 2009, has been a consistent supporter of anti-mainland activists, even recently organizing a relief fund to help detained protesters pay their legal fees. He was arrested alongside former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee and singer, actress, and activist Denise Ho Wan-sze.
Hong Kong authorities allege they were "colluding with foreign forces" - a very generalized charge which invokes the controversial pro-China so-called national security law which took effect in June 2020 - following well over a year of fierce anti-Beijing protests taking over Hong Kong streets and universities.
The law broadly covers "terrorism, subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces" - and activists and international critics have said it is now routinely used as blanket pro-China enforcement to snuff out all non-approved speech and protests, even including news content and film.
The elderly bishop Zen has been detained reportedly related to his work in establishing and operating what's called the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund - which offers the aforementioned monetary and legal assistance to jailed Hong Kong dissidents.
The South China Morning Post details, "The three, who were detained on Wednesday, were among five trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was set up to offer financial assistance to those involved in anti-government protests in 2019 and which came under the intense scrutiny of authorities over the past year." This is possibly the latest in a growing body of evidence that the national security law is being applied retroactively.
"A fourth trustee, former adjunct associate professor Hui Po Keung, was arrested by national security police on Tuesday as he was about to catch a flight to Germany, a source said," the SCMP report indicated further.
(1) BREAKING news: in Hong Kong today, National Security police have just arrested singer Denise Ho, Cardinal Joseph Zen, former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng, who are trustees of the "612 Humanitarian Relief Fund", for allegedly colluding with foreign forces#RaamWTF pic.twitter.com/FWSigBWSxG— Raam Beart 🥭 (@raam_beart) May 11, 2022
There are reports that the fund had actually been officially disbanded last year following an order from the national security police for it to hand over details of its operations. It's possible the fund went underground after that point, and continued quietly assisting jailed activists.
Cardinal Zen has enjoyed great popularity and support not only locally but in the Catholic community worldwide...
Cardinal Joseph Zen at 90: ‘A Great Gift of God to Hong Kong’— EWTN Vatican (@EWTNVatican) January 13, 2022
As the longtime champion of human rights celebrates his birthday this week, some of his friends & associates tell us about his continuing contributions to the Church in China & elsewhere.https://t.co/9biDeEm2MF
The Vatican has meanwhile been relatively silent on China's well-documented interference and crackdown in Hong Kong, according to the US-based Catholic News Agency:
Before the [national security] law’s implementation, many Catholics, including Zen, warned that it could be used to silence the Church in Hong Kong.
Zen’s arrest will pose a dilemma for the Vatican, which has shied away from public criticism of the crackdown in Hong Kong.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, said in June 2021 that he was not convinced that speaking out on the situation in Hong Kong would make a difference.
But perhaps seeing a high-ranking cardinal behind bars will finally elicit a strong statement from the Vatican, which semi-frequently weighs in on controversial global affairs. ...But we won't hold our breath.