A 90-year-old Catholic cardinal and five others in Hong Kong on Monday for allegedly failing to register a now-defunct fund set up to help those arrested during the city’s massive anti-government protests three years ago are being prosecuted.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, a retired bishop of Hong Kong, was first arrested in May on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security, along with singer Dennis Ho and the lawyer Margaret Ng, among others. has been.
Although they have not yet been charged with national security charges, Zane and five others have been charged with failing to properly register the now defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.
Along with Zen, Ho, Ng, cultural studies researcher Hui Po Keung and former lawmaker Seid Ho served as administrators of the fund. The sixth defendant, Seiz Ching-wei, was the secretary of the fund.
The Societies Ordinance obliges local organizations to apply for registration or exemption within one month of their establishment. Prosecutors say Zane and the others didn’t.
The question will focus on whether the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund qualifies as an organization required to register.
The fund helped pay the medical and legal costs of protesters arrested during anti-government protests in 2019 and then ceased operations in August 2021.
Everyone pleaded not guilty. If found guilty, they could be fined up to HK$10,000 ($1,273) without jail time.
The case stunned the Catholic community, although the Vatican remained silent on Zain’s arrest, saying only that it was monitoring developments closely.
It also comes as the Vatican works to renew its agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops in China, with Beijing recommending bishops approved and appointed by the pope.
The 12 million strong Catholic community is divided between the “clandestine” church, which recognizes the pope, and those who participate in state-sanctioned churches controlled by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
In Hong Kong, where there are around 390,000 Catholics out of a population of around 7.3 million, the Catholic Church has yet to face mainland-style freedom restrictions, while Beijing has tightened its grip. on the city.
Zen has openly criticized the Vatican’s deal with China, calling it a “sale” of “clandestine” Chinese Catholics who are loyal to the Vatican. He has been considered a somewhat controversial figure for his outspoken criticism of Beijing and his ties to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp.
The case is also part of the ongoing crackdown on dissent in the city. Following the protests, Beijing enacted a strict national security law that prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to interfere in city affairs.
The law has been widely seen as a way to root out dissent and has been used to arrest more than 150 people, many of them pro-democracy and activists, since its enactment.
Most of the city’s outspoken pro-democracy activists are either in jail or have fled the city.
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