Catholic activist Bobo Yip among 10 arrested over Fund linked to Card Zen

Police arrested six men and four women, aged 26 to 43, on suspicion of “conspiracy" and "collusion" with a foreign country and external elements endangering national security through their links to a humanitarian fund that saw Card Zen detained and subjected to restrictions.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – In Hong Kong, the authorities have ordered another crackdown against pro-democracy activists and civil liberties advocates under the infamous national security law, Beijing imposed in 2020.

As part of this, police yesterday arrested 10 people for allegedly violating the draconian law in connection with a humanitarian relief fund. Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Hong Kong’s bishop emeritus, was also detained because of his involvement with the fund, which disbanded two years ago.

In yesterday’s operation, a prominent Catholic leader was also arrested. According to the Hong Kong Free Press (HHKFP) newspaper, six men and four women were taken into custody, including Bobo Yip, former chairwoman of the diocese's Justice and Peace Commission.

Following the arrest, police took Yip to a Catholic bookstore in the Yau Ma Tei neighbourhood to gather evidence against her, seizing two computers.

Charges against the 10 were mentioned in Card Zen’s trial, who was formally accused of failing to register the fund; If convicted, the 10 face a long prison sentence, up to life imprisonment.

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Hong Kong’s National Security Department confirmed the arrest of 10 people "aged between 26 and 43, in various districts", suspected of "conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security [. . .] and inciting riot”.

“The arrested persons were suspected of conspiracy to collude with the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund to receive donations from various overseas organizations to support people who have fled overseas or organizations which called for sanctions against Hong Kong," the police statement said.

The 612 Fund was created in June 2019 to provide “support to all persons who are arrested (regardless of charges), injured or affected" during the 2019 mass protests.

Protests were held that year after the Hong Kong government tried to get through a law that would allow deportations of political prisoners to mainland China for trial.

Months of mass rallies led to the police crackdown. The 612 Fund helped thousands of pro-democracy protesters until it disbanded in October 2021.

Although connected in various ways to the fund, the defendants claim their innocence by pointing out that the charity was not required to register under the Societies Ordinance. For the prosecution, the entity was political in nature, so it could not be exempt from  registering.

Agnes Chow, a pro-democracy Catholic activist, was released in 2021 after serving a six-month sentence for attending an "illegal" assembly in 2019.

Since 2020, Catholic publisher  Jimmy Lai has been in the midst of a judicial "marathon" of court hearings and convictions, while the government shut down his Apple Daily newspaper in 2021.

Amid the legal wrangling over the 612 Fund, the police arrested Card Zen in May 2022.

Released after a few hours, the 90-year-old bishop emeritus ended up in court along with famed lawyer Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, former Hong Kong Legislative Council Member Cyd Ho, academic Hui Po-keung, and activist Sze Ching-wee.

The prelate was fined HK$ 4,000 (just over US$ 500) last November, for failing to register the fund, and he may still be indicted for collusion with foreign forces.

Card Zen has long been in the crosshairs of the Chinese government. Last year, Hong Kong’s pro-mainland press published four articles accusing him of inciting students to revolt in 2019 in violation of a series of government measures.

The cardinal is also disliked by Beijing for his criticism of the control the Communist Party of China exercised over religious communities.

For his part, Card Zen has skewered Chinese authorities for removing crosses from mainland churches and has celebrated Mass every year in memory of the martyrs of Tiananmen, the young men and women mowed down and crushed on 4 June 1989 in Beijing’s main square for demanding freedom and democracy.

The cardinal is also opposed to the China-Vatican agreement on episcopal appointments.

An outspoken defender of civil rights in Hong Kong and mainland China, the bishop emeritus has often attended court hearings involving pro-democracy activists and political dissidents indicted under the national security law.

In January of this year, he was allowed to travel to Rome for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on a special permit since the authorities took away his passport.