Cardinal on trial over protest fund


Needing support: Zen arriving at court in Hong Kong. — AFP

Hong Kong: A 90-year-old Hong Kong cardinal went on trial alongside five fellow democracy supporters over their role in running a fund to help defend people arrested in anti-government protests.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia’s highest-ranking Catholic clerics, was originally detained earlier this year under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to quell dissent.

His arrest for “colluding with foreign forces” shocked the city’s Catholic community and renewed criticism of the Vatican’s warming ties with Beijing, including from fellow senior clerics.

Police have not yet charged Zen with a national security offence, which can carry a sentence of up to life in jail.

Instead, he and his fellow defendants, including activist and singer Denise Ho and veteran human rights barrister Margaret Ng, are being prosecuted for the less serious offence of failing to properly register their defence fund as a society.

If convicted, they face a fine of up to HK$10,000 (RM5,830) but no jail time. All have pleaded not guilty.

Zen, a retired former Bishop of Hong Kong, arrived at court yesterday morning with the help of a walking stick.

The Vatican has been muted on his arrest, previously saying it was concerned and “following the development of the situation very closely”.

Pope Francis declined to comment on Zen’s prosecution when asked about it earlier this month but said he was determined to continue pursuing a dialogue with Beijing.

The trial comes at a sensitive time for the Vatican, which is working to renew its controversial agreement with Beijing later this year over the appointment of bishops in China.

Shanghai-born Zen was critical, calling the deal a “sellout” of China’s underground Catholics who have faced persecution for remaining loyal to Rome and refusing to recognise the Communist Party-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association.

Zen’s group acted as trustees of a now-defunct fund that helped pay legal and medical costs for those arrested during huge and sometimes violent democracy protests three years ago.

The “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund” is charged with not properly registering under the Societies Ordinance, a colonial-era law from 1911. — AFP

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