Hong Kong finds Cardinal Joseph Zen guilty over pro-democracy protest fund

Hong Kong

A 90-year-old former bishop and outspoken critic of China’s ruling Communist Party was found guilty Friday on charges related to his role in a relief fund for Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019.

Cardinal Joseph Zen and five others, including Cantopop singer Denise Ho, violated the Ordinance of the Association by failing to register the now-defunct “Humanitarian Relief Fund 612”, which is used part to pay legal and medical fees for the protesters, Judge West Kowloon said. Court ruled.

The gray-haired cardinal, appeared in court with a cane, and his accomplices all denied the charges.

The incident is seen as a sign of political freedom in Hong Kong in an ongoing crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, and at a sensitive time for the Vatican, is preparing to renew a controversial agreement with Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China.

Outside court, Zen told reporters he hoped people would not associate his beliefs with religious freedom.

“I see many people abroad concerned about a cardinal being arrested. It has nothing to do with religious freedom. I am part of the fund. (Hong Kong) has seen no damage (to) its right to religious freedom,” said Zen.

Zen and four other trustees of the foundation – singer Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po Keung and politician Cyd Ho – were sentenced to a fine of HK$4,000 ($510) each.

The sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wee, the fund’s secretary, was fined HK$2,500 ($320).

All were initially charged under national security laws backed by Beijing for colluding with foreign forces, with a maximum penalty of life in prison. Those charges were dropped and they instead faced a lighter charge under the Society Ordinance, a centuries-old colonial law that could result in fines of up to HK$10,000. $1,274) but no jail time for first-time offenders.

The court heard in September that the legal fund raised the equivalent of $34.4 million through 100,000 deposits.

In addition to providing financial support to protesters, the fund is also used to fund pro-democracy protests, such as paying for audio equipment used. in 2019 during street protests against Beijing’s squeeze.

Although Zen and the five other defendants were not charged under national security legislation, the law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in June 2020 aimed at quelling the protests has been repeatedly used to contain it. different opinions.

Since the law was introduced, most of the city’s prominent pro-democracy figures have been arrested or gone into exile, while a number of independent media outlets and NGOs have closed.

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly rejected criticism that the law – which criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – stifles freedoms, instead claimed that the law restored order in the city following the 2019 protest movement.

Hong Kong’s prosecution of one of Asia’s most senior clerics has put relations between Beijing and the Holy See in the spotlight.

Zen strongly objected a Controversial deal happened in 2018 between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops. In the past, both sides have asked for the final say on the appointment of bishops in mainland China, where religious activities are closely monitored and sometimes banned.

Born to Catholic parents in Shanghai in 1932, Zen fled with his family to Hong Kong to escape Communist rule as a teenager. He was ordained a priest in 1961 and became Bishop of Hong Kong in 2002, before retiring in 2009.

Known as “the conscience of Hong Kong” among his supporters, Zen has long been a prominent advocate for democracy, human rights and religious freedom. He has been at the forefront of some of the city’s most important protests, from the mass protest against the 2003 national security law to the 2014 “Yellow Umbrella Movement” demanding universal suffrage in 2014.


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