HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police said on Thursday they had filed complaints to the city’s main professional legal bodies over a national security case involving a fund that had assisted pro-democracy protesters to pay for legal services.
Five trustees of the now-disbanded 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund were arrested by police this week, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, one of the most senior Catholic clerics in Asia; and leading senior barrister Margaret Ng, 74.
The five were arrested for suspected “conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” under a China-imposed national security law, and released on bail.
The police said its investigations had “revealed that a number of solicitors and barristers were suspected of professional misconduct when providing legal services” without giving names or specifics.
Complaints were lodged to the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Hong Kong Law Society, police added.
Neither body replied to a Reuters request for comment.
The others arrested are pop singer Denise Ho, former academic Hui Po-keung and former lawmaker Cyd Ho. The national security law, enacted in June 2020, punishes crimes such as subversion, terrorism, secession and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life imprisonment. nL2N2X31EL]
Zen, Ng and the others have been forceful advocates of fundamental rights in Hong Kong. Critics of the security law say it erodes the freedoms promised by China under a “one country, two systems” arrangement when Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
The arrests drew concern from the Vatican and criticism from Western governments, including Britain, that said the security legislation was being used to “curtail freedom, punish dissent, and shrink the space for opposition free press and civil society”.
China’s Foreign Commissioner’s Office in Hong Kong said in a statement late Thursday that such Western criticism had “smeared the legitimate law enforcement actions” of the police and that interference in Hong Kong affairs must end.
Hong Kong’s Catholic Diocese said in a statement on Thursday that it was “extremely concerned” about the safety of Zen, and called on the police and judicial authorities to handle his “case in accordance with justice”.
The Hong Kong government said the arrests had been made in strict accordance with the law and were “completely irrelevant to the occupational or religious background” of the individuals.
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Jessie Pang and Hong Kong Newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)