Hong Kong national security police have arrested prominent barrister Margaret Ng and Cardinal Joseph Zen, HKFP has learned. Singer-activist Denise Ho has also been arrested, local media report.

They helped run the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which aided thousands of protesters during the 2019 unrest by providing legal assistance, funds for psychological counselling and medical treatment and emergency relief.

China extradition protest
Margaret Ng. Photo: Dan Garrett/HKFP.

Legal sources told HKFP on Wednesday that Ng and 90-year-old Zen were arrested a day after cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport.

National security police confirmed later that night that they had arrested four people – two males and two females – aged between 45 and 90, for alleged conspiracy to collude with foreign powers.

Cardinal Zen
Cardinal Zen. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Last September, the police cited potential national security violations and served a court order to the fund, requesting information on its operations and financial transactions. Local media reported at the time that the documents included bank account details, donor information and details of the fund recipients.

The fund announced it would cease operations by October 31 last year, after the the directors of the fund’s holding company – the Alliance for True Democracy Limited – said they would soon disband.

Zen was released on bail from Chai Wan Police Station at around 11 p.m. on Wednesday. He did not speak. Using a walking stick and holding a thermal bottle in his hand, Zen then entered a private car parked outside the police station. The 90-year-old was accompanied by five people when he left.

Cardinal Joseph Zen
Cardinal Joseph Zen leaving Chai Wan Police Station on May 11, 2022 at around 11 p.m. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Vatican said they were “following the development of the situation with extreme attention,” the Catholic News Agency reported.

‘Shocking new low’

Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch said that the arrests were shocking: “Arresting a 90-year-old cardinal for his peaceful activities has to be a shocking new low for Hong Kong, illustrating the city’s free fall in human rights in the past two years. Human Rights Watch calls on the Hong Kong government to immediately release the five and drop all charges against them. The arrests, which comes days after the Chinese government’s anointment of former security chief John Lee as the city’s chief executive, is an ominous sign that its crackdown on Hong Kong is only going to escalate.”

HKFP has reached out to the police for confirmation and comment.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.