Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong was released on bail late on Wednesday, May 11, after he was arrested under the city’s national security law.
The retired 90-year-old cardinal was seen in media footage waving to reporters as he left a police station in the city hours after his arrest, but he did not give a statement.
He was released shortly before the White House issued a statement demanding he be freed “immediately,” and as the Vatican voiced “concern” at his arrest and said it was following the situation “very closely.”
Cardinal Zen is former bishop of Hong Kong and one of the most senior Catholic clerics in the Chinese business hub.
He has been critical of the Vatican’s decision to reach a compromise with China over the appointment of bishops on the mainland and an advocate of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
The cardinal was arrested over his role as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees.
In 2020, a sweeping National Security Law came into force, criminalizing previously protected civil liberties under the headings of “sedition“ and “foreign collusion.”
In a statement, the Vatican expressed concern over news of the cardinal’s arrest.
“The Holy See has learned with concern the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the development of the situation with extreme attention,” read a May 11 statement from the Holy See press office.
Local media reports said the cardinal and four others — Canadian-Hong Kong pop star Denise Ho, academic Hui Po Keung, and former opposition lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho — were arrested on Wednesday evening for alleged “collusion with foreign forces.”
Before the law’s implementation, many Catholics, including Cardinal Zen, warned that it could be used to silence the Church in Hong Kong.
Police said those arrested were suspected of endangering national security because they allegedly asked foreign nations or overseas organizations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong.
On Tuesday, scholar Hui became the first among the group to be arrested as he tried to leave via the airport to take up an academic post in Europe.
The offense of “foreign collusion” was introduced in a sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in response to the democracy protests.
The security law has crushed dissent in the once outspoken business hub and can carry up to life in jail.
Cyd Ho has already been jailed for unauthorized assembly in a separate case.
The fund disbanded last year after the city’s national security police demanded it hand over operational details including information about its donors and beneficiaries.
In its Wednesday statement, police said it was also seeking to charge the trustees and an additional person for failing to properly register the group in accordance with law.
Shortly before the fund closed in October, Hong Kong’s Lingnan University said its contract with Hui had ended but declined to state a reason on privacy grounds.
Academics who played prominent roles in Hong Kong’s now decimated democracy movement have often found themselves dropped by universities and are struggling to find work.
A social commentator and prolific author, Hui taught for more than two decades at Lingnan University and was credited by former student leader Nathan Law with inspiring his political career. – with a report from Agence France Presse and Vatican News