China just put another nail in the coffin of freedom in Hong Kong – Mother Jones

From left, Cardinal Joseph Zen, lawyer Margaret Ng, Professor Hui Po-keung and singer Denise Ho at a 2021 press conference. All were arrested by Chinese authorities last week.HK01 / AP

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In almost two years from the Chinese government imposed a draconian law on “national security” on Hong Kong, the authorities they rounded up dozens of journalists, pro-democracy politicians and other activists. The purpose of the law is to instill fear among those who would like to challenge Beijing and, at that point, it has succeeded. Since its introduction, the Chinese government “has used the letter and the spirit of the law to crush the democratic opposition in Hong Kong with astonishing ferocity,” the New York Times concluded last year

On Wednesday, Beijing invoked the law arrest five new alleged security threats, including lawmaker Cyd Ho, pro-democracy academic Hui Po-keung, lawyer Margaret Ng, pop star Denise Ho, and a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal named Joseph Zen.

Hardly anyone has the idea of ​​a team of henchmen, the inmates are all prominent pro-democracy voices who, more recently, have served as trustees of a relief fund that provided financial aid, advice and legal advice to Hong Kong protesters. the bottom has stopped working in October, which makes it particularly odd that the Chinese government pursued its administrators months after the fact. “By any rational measure, the threat – if the government views food assistance and legal costs as a threat – ended with the closure of the fund,” wrote Mark Simon, former deputy editor of pro-democracy Hong Kong. Jimmy Lai, in a Washington Post op ed.

The arrests seemed to serve no rational purpose other than arousing fear and confusion, and in Xi Jinping’s China, this is often the purpose. Zen’s arrest immediately triggered a diplomatic crisis with the Catholic Church that was only four years ago signed an agreement– against Zen’s will – to give Beijing greater control over China’s elected bishops. The deal is renewed every two years, making it a particularly strange time for the Chinese government to argue with the Vatican.

“Cardinal Zen is a symbol of resistance to Communist China”, Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at the University of Villanova who studies the Vatican. “This is bad news not only for Hong Kong Catholics, but for Hong Kong in general. It could be a symbol of what is coming with this new government. ”

A few days before the arrests, Beijing installed a new CEO, John Lee, who does state propaganda promised “It will make Hong Kongers and international investors feel relaxed.”

About 5 percent of Hong Kong residents are Catholic, but oddly enough, their number includes some of the most recognizable figures in the city. Lee, the new CEO, is Catholic, as was his fought predecessor Carrie Lam. Lai, the famous Hong Kong editor, and former lawmaker Martin Lee, who driven Catholic is also Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement since before its return to Chinese control in 1997. “Their commitment to rights and social justice is largely a function of their faith,” Sophie Richardson told me. Chinese director of Human Rights Watch.

Among these icons of the pro-democracy movement, Zen is revered as a unique and courageous activist, equally willing to denounce the Chinese government and the Catholic Church. He was bishop of Hong Kong until 2009, remaining firmly on the side of the pro-democracy movement. When Lai, Lee and fellow Catholic Agnes Chow were arrested under the National Security Act, Zen She said they were “simply putting into practice the social teaching of the Church.”

Zen was not afraid to challenge Pope Francis. In December 2019 he published an editorial in which he harshly criticized the Church’s approach to China. “The line followed by the Vatican in recent years towards the threatening Chinese giant has been that of pacification at any cost,” he said. he wrote. Under Francis’ leadership, the Vatican has offered concessions to Xi’s government to ensure that Chinese Catholics can worship without state harassment.

Religious worship in China is strictly controlled– as Uighurs and Tibetans know well – leading to a bizarre arrangement whereby some Chinese would participate in a state church, not aligned with the larger Catholic Church, or be involved in an “underground” church that pledged allegiance to the Vatican. For the price of remaining loyal to the pope, many clandestine church leaders spent decades in prison.

Francis’ agreement with China was intended to create security for Chinese Catholics at the cost of giving the government the power of veto over the selection of bishops. Faggioli said it is not unusual for national governments to require some degree of input on the choice of Catholic bishops “,but now in public the perception is that the Chinese government is not respecting the terms or the spirit of the agreement. “

“In the last two years – said Faggioli – the situation of Catholics in China and Hong Kong has worsened”. The space for any kind of free expression in Hong Kong is practically extinct.