YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) — Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, urged prayers for Hong Kong after the detention of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.

“Hong Kong used to be one of Asia’s freest and most open cities,” Cardinal Bo said May 14. “Today, it has been transformed into a police state. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association, and academic freedom have all been dismantled. There are early signs that freedom of religion or belief, a human right set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party, is threatened.”

Hong Kong’s national security police separately detained Cardinal Zen, 90, three other trustees of the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund May 10 and May 11, and all were released May 11. The fund was set up to offer financial assistance to those involved in anti-government protests in 2019 and was disbanded after coming under scrutiny by authorities over the past year.

Hong Kong’s 2020 security law made participating in or supporting the pro-democracy movement crimes of subversion and collusion with foreign organizations and allowed for those remanded to be extradited to mainland China. Punishment ranges between a minimum of three years and a maximum of life imprisonment.

Cardinal Bo noted that Cardinal Zen “was arrested and faces charges simply because he served as a trustee of a fund which provided legal aid to activists facing court cases. In any system where the rule of law exists, providing assistance to help people facing prosecution meet their legal fees is a proper and accepted right. How can it be a crime to help accused persons have legal defense and representation?”

“I am aware of recent propaganda attacks against the church in pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong and of growing self-censorship among religious leaders due to the circumstances. To see a city that was a beacon for freedom, including religious freedom, move so radically and swiftly down a much darker and more repressive path is heartbreaking,” Cardinal Bo said. “To see a government in China break its promises made in an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, so repeatedly and blatantly, is appalling.’

Each May 24, the feast of Mary Help of Christians and, for China, Our Lady of Sheshan, the church marks the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

“Last year I called for this to be turned into a week of prayer each year, and I was heartened when a group of lay Catholics around the world took up my invitation and established the Global Week of Prayer for China,” Cardinal Bo said.

This year, during the week of prayer, Cardinal Bo urged people “to pray for Hong Kong especially, and the Church in China, as well as the Uyghurs, Tibetans and others facing persecution in China.” He said on May 24, Christians should pray especially for Cardinal Zen, and he urged people to consider special Masses on the feast.

“For the people of Hong Kong, it is now increasingly difficult to speak out freely, so those of us outside Hong Kong who have a voice must use it on their behalf and devote our prayers and efforts to showing solidarity with and support for them, in the hope that one day their freedoms will be restored,” the cardinal said.