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Catholic leader and opposition lawmaker arrested in Hong Kong for ‘colluding with foreign forces’

The outspoken pro-democracy firebrand Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has been arrested by Hong Kong’s national security police for allegedly colluding with foreign forces, the SCMP report.

The Catholic leader was arrested along with former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee and singer Denise Ho Wan-sze, who were three of five trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.

The fund was set up to financially support anti-government protestors in 2019 during the height of the pro-democracy demonstrations, provoking the ire of the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party.

Hong Kong authorities appear to be cleaning house with the 612 fund, as a fourth trustee, former adjunct associate professor Hui Po Keung, was arrested on Tuesday as he tried to board a flight to Germany.

Hui had been blacklisted on a no-flee list, meaning he would be detained if he tried to leave the city via the airport or other exit points.

The fifth and sole remaining trustee, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, is already languishing in jail for helping to organise illegal rallies.

As of Wednesday evening, the four were still being held for questioning and had not been charged. There is no word on which foreign powers they are accused of colluding with.

Cardinal Joseph Zen (left), barrister Margaret Ng (centre left), professor Hui Po-keung (centre right) and singer Denise Ho (right) pictured on August 18, 2021 attending a press conference at Salesian Missionary House in Hong Kong, to announce the closure of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, established to support democracy protesters. All four are now in custody in Hong Kong for their activities relating to the fund

Retired archbishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, centre, and pro-democracy activist and barrister Margaret Ng, left, hold the donation boxes during an annual New Year protest in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Both were arrested today by authorities in Hong Kong

Retired archbishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, centre, and pro-democracy activist and barrister Margaret Ng, left, hold the donation boxes during an annual New Year protest in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Both were arrested today by authorities in Hong Kong

Joseph Zen, centre, and other religious protesters hold placards with 'Respects religious freedom' written on them during a demonstration outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. The 612 fund was set up to financially support anti-government protestors in 2019 during the height of the pro-democracy demonstrations

Joseph Zen, centre, and other religious protesters hold placards with ‘Respects religious freedom’ written on them during a demonstration outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. The 612 fund was set up to financially support anti-government protestors in 2019 during the height of the pro-democracy demonstrations

Hong Kong activist and music star Denise Ho is released from Western Police Station after more than twenty-four hours in custody Thursday, Dec. 30. 2021. The 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund closed its doors in October 2021 as punitive authorities were sniffing around it's activities

Hong Kong activist and music star Denise Ho is released from Western Police Station after more than twenty-four hours in custody Thursday, Dec. 30. 2021. The 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund closed its doors in October 2021 as punitive authorities were sniffing around it’s activities

All four pro-democracy activists have fallen foul of Hong Kong’s much reviled 2021 national security law, which was seen as a betrayal of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in place since the island city returned to Chinese control in 1997. 

This principle was supposed to protect fundamental rights for Hong Kong over a 50 year period, including the freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights – all anathema to the government in Beijing.

Under the 2021 law, the crime of collusion with foreign forces is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison and cases can be sent to the mainland for trial, raising doubts about the independence and fairness of any trial held there. 

The 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund closed its doors in October 2021 as punitive authorities were sniffing around it’s activities.

Pope Benedict Xvi Embraces the Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun From Hong Kong on March 24 2006

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun on Wednesday 31 May 2006

Pictured: Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun in 2006. Under the 2021 law, the crime of collusion with foreign forces is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison and cases can be sent to the mainland for trial, raising doubts about the independence and fairness of any trial held there

Cantonese pop singer Denise Ho speaks during an interview in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. All four pro-democracy activists have fallen foul of Hong Kong's much reviled 2021 national security law, which was seen as a betrayal of the 'one country, two systems' principle in place since the island city returned to Chinese control in 1997

Cantonese pop singer Denise Ho speaks during an interview in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. All four pro-democracy activists have fallen foul of Hong Kong’s much reviled 2021 national security law, which was seen as a betrayal of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in place since the island city returned to Chinese control in 1997

Professor Hui Po-keung, from August 18, 2021, attending the press conference to announce the closing of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. Hui had been blacklisted on a no-flee list, meaning he would be detained if he tried to leave the city via the airport or other exit points

Professor Hui Po-keung, from August 18, 2021, attending the press conference to announce the closing of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. Hui had been blacklisted on a no-flee list, meaning he would be detained if he tried to leave the city via the airport or other exit points

Cardinal Joseph Zen (4th R), barrister Margaret Ng (3rd R), professor Hui Po-keung (2nd R) and singer Denise Ho (R) attending a press conference at Salesian Missionary House in Hong Kong, to announce the closure of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. They closed it down once they learned an investigation had been launched into whether it had breached the new national security law

Cardinal Joseph Zen (4th R), barrister Margaret Ng (3rd R), professor Hui Po-keung (2nd R) and singer Denise Ho (R) attending a press conference at Salesian Missionary House in Hong Kong, to announce the closure of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. They closed it down once they learned an investigation had been launched into whether it had breached the new national security law

It stopped taking funds altogether earlier than planned when an investigation into suspected breaches of the new national security law was opened.

Police had sent letters to the leaders of the fund demanding information on its operations, citing the authority of the new law imposed by Beijing. 

The fund has previously been a repository for those wishing to make donations towards helping Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists swept up in Chinese crackdowns during the long period of instability in 2019.

What is Hong Kong’s  2021 national security law?

The 2021 law gave Beijing sweeping powers to impose its authoritarian system on the former British colony.

The law’s key provisions include that:

Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison

A new security office in Hong Kong that answers to Beijing, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction

This office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China 

Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, undermining judicial independence

Beijing will be the arbiter of how the law is interpreted, superseding authorities in Hong Kong 

People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance 

Some trials will be heard behind closed doors

Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened 

Since it was founded in 2019, the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund has distributed more than HK$243 million (US$31.2 million) to protesters facing prosecution or financial hardship as a result of the social unrest. 

Organisations and employers associated with the trustees of the fund had already cut ties with them in order to avoid being caught up in potential prosecutions. 

Lingnan University promptly terminated associate professor Hui in September once the National Security Department confirmed the investigation.

Since the enactment of the Beijing-imposed legislation on June 30 of 2020, police have arrested 175 people and charged more than 110 of them as of March 31 of 2022, according to police. 

The arrests come in the wake of Beijing appointing the ex-security chief who oversaw the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement as the region’s new leader.

John Lee, 64, was the only candidate in the Beijing-backed race to succeed outgoing leader Carrie Lam this week.

The elevation of Lee, who is currently subject to US sanctions, places a security official in the top job for the first time amid a tumultuous few years for a city battered by political unrest and debilitating pandemic controls.

Despite the city’s mini-constitution promising universal suffrage, Hong Kong has never been a democracy, the source of years of public frustration and protests since the 1997 handover to China.

Its leader is instead chosen by an ‘election committee’ currently comprised of 1,461 people – roughly 0.02 percent of the city’s population.

After a brief secret ballot on Sunday, 99 percent of those who cast ballots (1,416 members) voted for Lee while only eight voted against, according to officials.

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