Hong Kong released a Roman Catholic cardinal from custody just hours after he was detained by authorities for alleged collusion with foreign forces in response to his role in promoting pro-democracy protests.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun was released on bail on Wednesday afternoon, although the details remain unclear. The release came shortly after the Vatican voiced concerns about his arrest, calling for “extreme attention” to the situation.

Hong Kong National Security Police reportedly detained Ze-kiun, a 90-year-old retired archbishop, because of his work as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provides financial assistance to those who were involved in anti-government protests over the last few years. Authorities also arrested former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee and singer Denise Ho Wan-sze for their work with the fund.


The cardinal has long been a public supporter of pro-democracy movements in China, offering assistance to those who were arrested for participating in demonstrations in 2019 against government officials extraditing people from Hong Kong to China. The Chinese government later enacted a security law that made participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations an act of collusion with foreign organizations.

The recent arrests have prompted calls from several governments worldwide, which have condemned China for what they consider a “violation of international law in Hong Kong.”

“These arrests mark a new and deeply worrying phase in the crackdown upon what remains of Hong Kong’s civil society,” said the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a cross-party coalition of democratic countries that focus on relations with the People’s Republic of China, in a statement. “The five arrested, including a 90-year-old clergyman, are each well-known and respected far beyond the borders of Hong Kong … Failure to respond would send a devastating signal to the people of Hong Kong: that nobody is safe from the reaches of this nefarious law, not even those with international standing.”


The group has called for the immediate release of the activists, urging countries that are part of the coalition to increase diplomatic pressure on China.

If charged, Zen Ze-kiun could be extradited to China to stand trial and face charges. If convicted, the cardinal could face a minimum of three years to life in prison, according to Hong Kong’s security law.