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EU Parliament condemns arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen, 4 other Hong Kong democracy activists

The former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen when he attended a news conference in 2018.  [Reuters]

The European Parliament has condemned the arrests of Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of the strongest advocates of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

In a twelve-point resolution released earlier in the week, the parliament said the arrests constitute an attack on the freedoms guaranteed in the Hong Kong Basic Law, including the freedom of religion or belief following the closure of over 60 civil society groups.

The Parliament in the press dispatch said the arrest is symptomatic of the continued efforts of the People’s Republic of China to systematically destroy the last remnants of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms and to suppress the pro-democracy movement.

The parliament said it believes that the arrest is a clear demonstration of John Lee Ka-Chiu’s stated intention to oppress all critical voices even more strongly and to further intensify the crackdown.

According to EU, the 24th annual report of the Commission and the High Representative covering the political and economic developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) in 2021 indicates that the space for civil society is continuing to shrink.

“Whereas some 10, 000 people have been arrested by the Hong Kong authorities since the 2019 protests and 2,500 people prosecuted, more than 1,100 people have been convicted and nearly 200 others arrested under the National Security Law as of March 28, 2022,” read the dispatch.

The parliament said there are over 721 political prisoners in Hong Kong.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, and the four were arrested earlier in May for the overbroad and vague crime of “colluding with foreign forces,” which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

All five are trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided medical, legal, and psychological aid for protesters arrested during the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

In 2021, Hong Kong police opened an investigation into the fund for alleged violations of the National Security Law, demanding information on the fund’s donors. The fund was forced to disband in October 2021.

The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in their resolutions urged the Hong Kong authorities to drop all charges against Cardinal Zen and the other four trustees – Cyd Ho, Denise Ho, Hui Po-Keung and Margaret Ng – and to release Cyd Ho.

“The EU Parliament urges the Chinese authorities to repeal the National Security Law completely and to recommit to upholding the Hong Kong Basic Law, which guarantees freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief,” read part of the dispatch.

They reiterated their call on the EU to introduce targeted sanctions under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime against the newly appointed pro-Beijing Hong Kong Chief Executive, John Lee Ka-Chiu, and all other officials responsible for the ongoing human rights crackdown in the city.

In response, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government condemned the resolutions and accused EU lawmakers of defaming the rule of law and the national security law in Hong Kong.

A spokesperson for the HKSAR government said the national security law in Hong Kong has stopped chaos and restored order while ensuring the smooth and continuous implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle and the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

Xinhua news agency reported that the spokesperson said the authorities will continue to guard against any acts endangering national security and will bring any person or entity violating the law to justice regardless of background.