Beijing Press Targets Cardinal Zen

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Four articles in the Ta Kungpao The newspaper (The Impartial) associates Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun with the 2019 protest movement and the Democratic camp silenced by authorities under the security law. This gesture could announce a crackdown on religious activities in the city of Hong Kong. The first possible targets are Catholic and Protestant schools.

The Beijing press attacks the 90-year-old cardinal, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and well-known supporter of the movement for local democracy. The cardinal also opposes the agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops.

As reported by Nina Shea in The Epoch Times, four articles were published in Ta Kung Pao, a government newspaper, during the last week of January accusing the cardinal of inciting students to revolt against a series of government measures until in 2019. Ms. Shea is director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.

Cardinal Zen, who has often denounced the control exercised by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over religious communities, is not well regarded in Beijing. He condemned the removal of crosses outside churches in China and held masses over the years in memory of the Tiananmen Martyrs, who were massacred by authorities on June 4, 1989 in Beijing.

One of Ta Kung Pao’s articles is titled “Cardinal Zen uses his religious status to create chaos in Hong Kong”. According to the pro-government newspaper, he is also guilty of links to media mogul Jimmy Lai and former MP Martin Lee, one of the founders of the Democratic Party.

Both are faithful Catholics and have been sentenced to prison for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations banned by the authorities.

Prosecution evidence against the Chinese cardinal also indicates that many of the arrested pro-democracy activists had studied in Christian schools. According to the Ta Kung Pao, individual churches incited the students to riot and gave them refuge.

“The pro-Beijing publication calls for religious institutions in Hong Kong to be brought under government control. . . The demand for restrictions on the Church represents a qualitative leap in the relationship between the CCP and the Catholic authorities.

“Anticipating the moves of the Chinese government with articles and comments in the pro-government press is a classic Party trick. In Hong Kong, such writings have often preceded the arrest of pro-democracy figures or the closure of pro-democracy newspapers and organizations.

The impression is that Cardinal Zen is being used as a target to send messages to the Catholic hierarchy in Hong Kong. Some observers point out that after Beijing’s crackdown on democracy, the Catholic Church remains the only organized entity in Hong Kong that has some degree of autonomy.

In this sense, the articles against Card Zen could announce a repression of religious activities in the former British colony. This first move, Nina Shea points out, could see the government take control of Christian schools, both Catholic and Protestant.

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