Hong Kong: China’s New Low With Notable Pro-Democracy Supporters Gathered

China has begun a frightening new crackdown on those who want a different future for the nation, in a move that has been labeled “deeply concerning”.

China began a chilling new crackdown as it rallied notable pro-democracy advocates, including one of Asia’s most prominent Catholic clerics and a well-known Cantonese pop star, in a move that was considered a “deeply troubling” new low point. .

Beijing came out swinging to its defenses today after the arrest of a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal under Hong Kong’s national security law sparked international outrage and deepened concerns over Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms.

Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia’s oldest Catholic clerics, was among a group of veteran democracy advocates arrested Wednesday for “collusion with foreign forces”.

Cantonese pop singer Denise Ho, veteran lawyer Margaret Ng and prominent cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung were also arrested, the latter as he was trying to fly to Europe to take up an academic post.

“The persons involved are suspected of conspiring to conspire with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security – an act of a serious nature,” said the Office of the Commissioner, which represents the Beijing Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong.

The four were detained for their involvement in a now-disbanded defense fund that helped pay the legal and medical costs of prisoners during the massive and sometimes violent wave of democracy protests three years ago.

China responded with a sweeping campaign to crush the movement and transform the once frank city into something more like the authoritarian mainland.

Zen and his colleagues, who were released on bail on Wednesday, join more than 180 Hong Kongers arrested so far under a national security law Beijing imposed to stop the protests.

The accused are usually not given bail and can face life in prison if convicted.

‘Deeply worrying’

Criticism has come from Western nations who have accused China of eviscerating the freedoms it once promised Hong Kong could keep.

The United States, which previously sanctioned top Chinese officials for the ongoing crackdown, urged Beijing to “stop attacking Hong Kong defenders.”

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly called the arrests “deeply concerning”. Ho, a popular Hong Kong singer and LGBTQ activist, is also Canadian.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was following the arrests with “great concern”, while Human Rights Watch called it a “shocking new low for Hong Kong”.

“Even by Hong Kong’s recent standards of repression, these arrests represent a shocking escalation,” added Amnesty International.

The Vatican said it was concerned about Zen’s arrest and would “closely monitor the development of the situation”.

Prison causes shock waves in Hong Kong

Cardinal Zen fled Shanghai for Hong Kong after the Communists took power in China in 1949 and became the city’s bishop.

A longtime supporter of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, he accused the Vatican of “selling out” China’s underground Catholic church by reaching a compromise with Beijing on appointing bishops on the mainland.

Hong Kong’s Catholic hierarchy, including Zen’s successors, has become much less open about Beijing in recent years.

The diocese of Hong Kong said on Thursday that it was “extremely concerned about the condition and safety of Cardinal Joseph Zen.”

“We trust that in the future we will continue to enjoy religious freedom in Hong Kong under the Basic Law,” he said in a statement, referring to the city’s mini-constitution that supposedly guarantees fundamental freedoms.

Zen’s arrest shocked the city’s Catholic community. “Cardinal Zen’s arrest is a blow to the entire Church in Hong Kong, China and the world,” Italian missionary Franco Mella, 73, who lives in Hong Kong, told AFP.

“It has become obvious that there is a sword of Damocles above Zen and other people in the church.”

If you say that someone has the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over their head, you mean that they are in a situation where something very bad can happen to them at any time.

A church visitor on Thursday who gave her name as Laura said worshipers fear that continental-style suppression of religion could be coming to Hong Kong.

“The space for religious freedom has apparently shrunk because even a Catholic cardinal is in prison now,” she said.

Ta Kung Pao, a nationalist newspaper that reports to the Beijing Liaison Office in Hong Kong, published an article Thursday accusing the detainees of “six crimes”.

These have included funding lobbying travel and activist meetings with British lawmakers, providing financial aid to Hong Kong “protesters” who fled to Canada and Taiwan, and accepting donations from abroad and the now-closed Apple Daily.

But most of the alleged actions cited by Ta Kung Pao took place before the enactment of the law, which was not supposed to be retroactive.

The fund was dissolved last year after national security police demanded it hand over operational details, including information about its donors and beneficiaries.

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