Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Jane has been arrested on charges of foreign embezzlement

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HONG KONG – Hong Kong National Security Police have arrested 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Jane, along with three others, Hong Kong’s most outspoken senior Roman Catholic cleric and city bishop Emeritus Others blamed their involvement in a humanitarian relief fund on Wednesday, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Detainees under the National Security Act could signal a new wave since John Lee was elected Hong Kong’s chief executive. He will assume office in July and has stressed that maintaining stability and maintaining national security will be one of his main goals.

Jane, senior barrister Margaret Ng, pundit Hui Po-keung and popular singer Dennis Hoque were arrested under the Security Act on charges of colluding with foreign forces while acting as trustees of the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. Three lawyers familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed the arrest. In a statement, police confirmed the arrests of four Relief Fund trustees and said all had been released on bail. The arrests will continue, the statement said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States strongly condemned the arrest, which he said Hong Kong authorities would “take all necessary measures to suppress the blockade and reduce protected rights and freedoms.”

Hui’s arrest at the airport “further indicates that local authorities have maintained a politically motivated exit ban on certain residents,” Price said, urging the immediate release of those in custody.

China’s congressional-executive commission, an independent U.S. government agency tasked with monitoring human rights in the country, said the Hong Kong government had continued to “dismantle the rule of law and all human rights organizations in Hong Kong.” It has asked UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to schedule an “emergency meeting” and visit the city.

Relief funds have provided financial support to thousands of protesters Arrested during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and paid their legal and medical fees. The funds were disbursed in September after the National Security Police issued a statement saying they would investigate whether the entity had violated security laws.

Eric Ian-ho Lai, a Hong Kong law fellow at the Center for Asian Law in Georgetown, said the arrest of Jane, which raised a national security issue to the level of geopolitics and foreign relations, was “an unscrupulous move.” University.

“The arrests have already ignored the tense Beijing-Vatican relationship and will cause widespread concern in the international community,” Lai said, adding that a controversial agreement between Beijing and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops is set to be renewed later this year. Its two-year cycle is coming forward. The United States has condemned the deal as a further marginalization of Chinese underground priests loyal to Rome.

Lionel Jensen, an associate professor of East Asian languages ​​and culture at the University of Notre Dame, said Jane’s arrest “sounds like a death knell for Hong Kong.”

“The arrest of Cardinal Jane by today’s National Security Police dramatically demonstrates the disrespect of a morally hateful and shameless political organization,” Jensen said.

Jane’s arrest prompted a response from the Vatican. The Vatican Press Office said in a statement that “Holy See has learned of the news of Cardinal Jane’s arrest with concern and is following the evolution of the situation with the utmost attention.”

Jane is an advocate for pro-democracy in Hong Kong and a critic of the Vatican for its silence on the political situation in the city and the increasing repression of churches on the mainland. In 2018, Jane opposed the Beijing-Vatican agreement, citing the long-term loss of credibility of the church. Two years later, Jane tried to meet with Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican, hoping to persuade him to appoint a new bishop for Hong Kong, who would be “trusted by the people” and stand firm against Beijing’s strong occupation of the region, but met with him. Couldn’t.

In January, a pro-Beijing newspaper reprimanded Ta Kung Pao Zhen, accusing him of “exploiting his role as a cleric” and saying he had “interfered in Hong Kong’s affairs.” Jane continued to attend court trials and met with imprisoned Catholic activists, including Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.

China has prosecuted numerous Catholic bishops, the most notable being Cardinal Ignatius Kung-pin Mei, archbishop of Shanghai in the 1950s, who was imprisoned for more than three decades for refusing to obey Chinese authorities.

Hui, a prominent academic, was arrested at a Hong Kong airport on Wednesday on his way to work as a visiting scholar in Europe. According to local media reports, he was arrested before his departure. Lingnan University in Hong Kong ended its contract with Hui a month before the fund stopped working and refused to provide details on confidentiality grounds.

Chico Harlan in Rome contributed to this report.

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