02/04/2022, 13.45
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Pro-Beijing paper targets Card Zen

Four articles in Ta Kung Pao slam the cardinal for the 2019 protest movement and the pro-democracy movement, which was recently muzzled by the authorities under the security law. The move could herald a crackdown against religious activities in Hong Kong with Catholic and Protestant schools as the first targets.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The Chinese-language press has started to target 90-year-old Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and a well-known supporter of the local pro-democracy movement, this according to Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, writing in The Epoch Times.

In the last week of January, four articles appeared in Ta Kung Pao, a government-owned newspaper, accusing the cardinal of inciting students to go against a series of government measures in 2019.

Card Zen is disliked by Beijing for his criticism of the control exercised by the Communist Party of China (CPC) over religious communities.

He slammed the removal of external crosses from churches in mainland China and regularly celebrated memorial Masses for the martyrs of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, i.e., the young people massacred by the authorities on 4 June 1989 for demanding freedom and democracy.

The cardinal is also opposed to the agreement between the Vatican and China over episcopal appointments.

Card Zen has openly defended civil rights in Hong Kong and mainland China, and has often attended the trials of political prisoners and pro-democracy activists jailed on charges of breaking the draconian security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in 2020.

One article in Ta Kung Pao is titled “Card Zen uses his status as a clergyman to disrupt Hong Kong”.

For the pro-establishment newspaper, the prelate is also to blame for links with media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former Legislative Council Member Martin Lee, one of the founders of the Democratic Party.

Both Catholic, Lai and Lee were handed down prison sentences for taking part in pro-democracy rallies banned by the authorities.

The articles against the Chinese cardinal note that many of the detained pro-democracy activists were educated in Christian schools. According to Ta Kung Pao, individual churches have instigated students to rise up and then given them refuge.

The pro-Beijing publication calls for Hong Kong's religious institutions to be placed under government control. At present, they are not required to follow the Party line and its programme of “sinicisation” of religions pursued by Xi Jinping, as they are in mainland China.

The request for restrictions on the Church represents a qualitative leap in the relationship between the CPC and Catholic authorities.

Anticipating the moves of the Chinese government with articles and comments in the pro-government press is a classic Party trick.

In Hong Kong such writings have often preceded the arrest of pro-democracy figures or the closure of pro-democracy newspapers and organisations.

The impression is that Card Zen is being targeted in order to send messages to Hong Kong’s Catholic hierarchy.

Some observers point out that after Beijing's crackdown of the pro-democracy movement, the Catholic Church remains the only organised group in Hong Kong with a certain degree of autonomy.

In this sense, the articles against Card Zen could herald a crackdown on religious activities in the former British colony.

This first move, Nina Shea points out, could see the government take control of Christian schools, both Catholic and Protestant.

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