Hong Kong’s national security police arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee and singer Denise Ho Wan-sze on Wednesday, accusing the three opposition activists of colluding with foreign forces, according to sources. The three were trustees of the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was set up to help those involved in the anti-government protests of 2019 and came under the intense scrutiny of authorities over the past year. Zen, 90, was released on bail and waved to reporters as he left Chai Wan police station at around 11.15pm. He got into a private car without making any comment. The Vatican released a statement saying it was monitoring Zen’s arrest carefully. The US and EU governments condemned all of the detentions. “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,” the Holy See said. A fourth trustee of the fund, former Lingnan University academic Hui Po-keung, was also arrested by national security police on Tuesday as he was about to catch a flight to Germany, a source said. “Hui claimed he would transit in Frankfurt and was heading to Venice, Italy, for a teaching task there,” the insider said. The Post learned on Wednesday that Hui had been put on a list of people who would be stopped by law enforcers if they tried to leave the city via the airport or other control points. The remaining trustee of the fund, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, is already in jail for her role in illegal assemblies. Shortly before midnight, police said two men and two women, aged between 45 and 90, had been arrested for allegedly colluding with foreign forces. Without naming the suspects, the force said the National Security Department carried out the arrests in different parts of the city on Tuesday and Wednesday. The suspects would be released on bail and had been requested under court orders to surrender their travel documents, it said. “Investigations showed that the suspects were trustees of 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” a spokesman said. “They were accused of urging foreign organisations to impose sanctions against Hong Kong, which could endanger national security. The arrest operation is still ongoing.” The spokesman also said the force would seek to prosecute the four individuals and another 37-year-old man for failing to register the fund as required by law. Zen was appointed a cardinal of the Catholic Church in 2006 and retired three years later. The outspoken former bishop of Hong Kong was active in the city’s political events, including the annual June 4 candlelight vigil, the Occupy protests of 2014 and the anti-government protest movement of 2019. He has been repeatedly attacked by the pro-Beijing camp for his staunch support of human rights and his criticisms of the Hong Kong and central governments Denise Ho, 45, has also been an influential figure of the activist movement. In July 2019, she delivered a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling on the body to remove China as a member and convene an urgent session to protect Hongkongers. Fund facing foreign collusion probe to ‘stop receiving donations’ Ho said the Vienna Declaration guaranteed democracy and human rights but they were under serious attack in Hong Kong, a reference to the government’s extradition bill, which would have enabled the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions with which the city does not have a fugitive agreement, including mainland China. At that point, Chinese delegate Dai Demao interrupted her, complaining that Hong Kong was part of China and that Ho had challenged the one-China principle. Cyd Ho, 67, joined the Legislative Council in 1998 and served for 14 years, focusing mainly on the rights of sexual minorities and women. Last year she was convicted of taking part in illegal assemblies in August 2019 and October 2019, and jailed for eight months and 14 months, respectively. Ng, 74, is a barrister by trade and served as a lawmaker from 1995 to 2012. She was given one year in jail, suspended for 24 months, for organising, publicising or taking part in several unauthorised assemblies in 2019. Since it was founded in 2019, the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund has distributed more than HK$243 million (US$31.2 million) to protesters facing prosecution or financial hardship as a result of the social unrest. Security police eye foreign collusion case against Hong Kong protests fund But the fund announced it would close in October 2021 given “the current political environment”, but abruptly stopped taking donations a month earlier than expected after police opened an investigation into its activities for suspected breaches of the national security law . It said at the time the Alliance for True Democracy, an opposition group advocating universal suffrage and which helped to collect donations, had notified the fund that it would stop executing its requests for payment out of the bank account it used. Police had sent letters to key leaders in charge of the fund, as well as the alliance, demanding operational information, citing powers granted under the national security law. In a rare acknowledgement, police issued a statement in September confirming the National Security Department was looking into the fund for suspected violations of the national security law and ordered it to hand over information, including details of donors and recipients. Hui was formerly with Lingnan University’s department of cultural studies. The university terminated his employment in the same month. National security police arrested Ng and Denise Ho along with five others connected to Stand News in December 2021 for publishing content that authorities alleged was seditious and stirred up hatred against the government. The online news platform shut down and dismissed all its staff immediately after the arrest. Following with great concern the developments relating to the arrests of Cardinal Joseph Zen, Margaret Ng, Denise Ho and Hui Po-keung in #HongKong . The fundamental freedoms, as guaranteed in the Hong Kong Basic Law and in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, must be respected. — Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) May 11, 2022 Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called on authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong “to cease targeting Hong Kong’s advocates and to immediately release [those] who have been unjustly detained and charged, like [Zen] and others”. The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, issued a similar appeal, saying that “the fundamental freedoms, as guaranteed in the Hong Kong Basic Law and in the Sino-British Joint Declaration , must be respected”. Human Rights Watch, which is headquartered in the United States, described the arrest of Zen as “a shocking new low for Hong Kong” and called for authorities to release all four being detained. “The arrests, which come days after the Chinese government’s anointment of former security chief John Lee as the city’s chief executive, are an ominous sign that its crackdown on Hong Kong is only going to escalate,” said China senior researcher Maya Wong. The arrests were another sign of the erosion of human rights in Hong Kong over the past two years, she added. Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chief executive of the Britain-based pro-democracy advocacy group Hong Kong Watch, said the arrests showed Beijing intended to ramp up its crackdown on basic rights and freedom in the city. “We condemn the arrests of these activists, whose supposed crime was funding legal aid for pro-democracy protesters back in 2019,” he said. “We urge the international community to shine a light on this brutal crackdown and call for the immediate release of these activists.” Hong Kong authorities accuse overseas NGO of breaching national security law The advocacy group itself was accused of breaching the national security law by the Hong Kong government in March and was ordered to close down its website, which could only be reached via a VPN on Wednesday. David Alton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords and a patron of Hong Kong Watch, called the arrests “an act of outrageous intimidation” in a Twitter post. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief, which brings together parliamentarians from both sides of the political aisle, also condemned the police’s action. “This is yet another example of #China’s increasing restrictions of fundamental human rights,” it wrote on Twitter. Since the enactment of the Beijing-imposed national security legislation on June 30, 2020, police have arrested 175 people under the law and charged more than 110 of them as of March 31, 2022, according to official figures.