A 90-year-old retired Catholic cardinal has been arrested along with others in relation to protests in Hong Kong three years ago.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s national security police arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, and singer Denise Ho Wan-sze, accusing the three opposition activists of colluding with foreign forces under the National Security Law.

“This arrest is a double outrage, targeting a 90-year-old Catholic spiritual leader and the directors of a fund set up to provide legal defence to arrested protesters."

The three were trustees of the now-shuttered 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was set up to help those involved in the anti-government protests of 2019. A fourth former trustee and former Lingnan University academic Hui Po-keung, was also arrested by national security police on Tuesday at the airport trying to board a flight. Former lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan, a fifth former trustee, was already behind bars for protest-related charges.

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Protests broke out in Hong Kong in 2019 fighting against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill proposed by the government of Hong Kong. The legislation was proposed by the Security Bureau in February 2019. The bill allow local authorities to detain and extradite people who are wanted in countries or territories that Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements with, including mainland China.

Protesters worried that it would place Hong Kong residents under the jurisdiction of mainland courts (which are controlled by the Communist Party of China) and apply not only to criminals but political dissidents as well.

“This arrest is s double outrage, targeting a 90-year-old Catholic spiritual leader and the directors of a fund set up to provide legal defence to arrested protesters," says the Campaign for Hong Kong board member and Hong Kong legal expert Michael Curtis Davis.

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"In a society based on the rule of law, the most fundamental right is the right to an adequate criminal defence. Nothing could offend that principle more than targeting a criminal defence fund."

The organization claims that the Hong Kong special police are targeting Hong Kong's most respected community leaders for civic-minded activities to protect basic rights in Hong Kong. 

"If the target is foreign funding, it is basic to the international human rights movement that international donors be allowed to support human rights work anywhere,” Davis says.

“Beijing and the newly minted chief-executive-in-waiting have chosen to ‘celebrate’ and mark their sham election with the arrests of some of the most revered civil society leaders, including the 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen," says founder and President Samuel Chu.

"These arrests set the tone for the 'new era'" under John Lee - more of the same but with more impunity and aggression. To put it bluntly, the timing of these arrests conjures up the image of a subject paying ‘tribute’ to his sovereign for securing his post while demonstrating to his masters in Beijing that they have picked the ‘right man for the job,'" Chu says.

The ongoing silence of the Vatican and church leadership in Hong Kong is deafening if not surprising. If this were happening to a parish priest anywhere else in the world, the Church would have spoken up forcefully and definitively (not merely 'monitoring closely') but not under the shadow of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party)."