The United States has expressed disapproval over the increasing rate of arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong authorities have recently cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations, arresting dozens of protesters and charging them with collusion with foreign forces. The U.S. this week joined the Vatican in expressing concern over the arrest of a 90 year old pro-democracy bishop in Hong Kong.

"We're increasingly troubled by steps in Hong Kong to pressure and eliminate civil society" and concerned over the authorities' clampdown on people who "speak out both in the media, in religious circles and in academia," White House National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell said, as per VOA News.

"Freedom of expression is critical to prosperous and secure societies," White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added while on board Air Force One. She called upon Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to cease targeting pro-democracy demonstrators and "immediately release those who have been unjustly detained and charged."

90 Year Old Pro-Democracy Bishop Arrested With Other Protesters

One of the most senior Catholic clerics in Asia, Cardinal Joseph Zen was arrested by Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday and taken to the Chai Wan Police Station near his church residence, Reuters reported. He was questioned for several hours before being released on bail.

A legal source close to the arrest reported that 74 year old senior barrister Margaret Ng, activist and pop singer Denise Ho, former lawmaker Cyd Ho, and former academic Hui Po-keung were also arrested by Hong Kong authorities. They were all released on bail, but their passports remained confiscated under the national security law.

Also Read: Hong Kong Catholic Churches Receive Threats For Holding Mass Commemorating Tiananmen Square Massacre

According to CBN News, Zen was arrested because of his role as a trustee of the group 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which assists in funding legal fees for those who participated in the 2019 pro-democracy protests, which were ultimately crushed by the Chinese government. The group closed its doors in 2021.

The State Department recently issued a report denouncing the actions of Chinese authorities that criminalized peaceful protesting and expression of political beliefs. Cambell pledged to continue to have a "dialogue" with "interested parties," including the UK on the status of Hong Kong. The island has faced increasingly stricter rules on democratic displays and demonstrations. Campbell called upon other nations to "underscore" that Russia's unprovoked attack on Ukraine "must never happen in Asia."

Another Pastor in Hong Kong Charged with Sedition and Denied Bail

Another church leader in Hong Kong was arrested and detained on charges of sedition in April. Rev. Garry Pang Moon-yuen was arrested by Hong Kong authorities on April 6, after attending a January 4 hearing over the June 4 Tiananmen Massacre commemoration vigil organizer Chow Hang-Tung was sentenced for inciting participants to join the banned event, International Christian Concern reported.

During the hearing, Rev. Pang applauded after Chow made an appeal for herself, an act that Hong Kong authorities took offense to. He was then charged with the intent to bring hatred, or excite disaffection against, the administration of justice," and "encouraging disobedience to law and order. The Hong Kong pastor has applied for bail four times since April 11 and has been denied every time. He also does not have a lawyer to represent him.

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