HK court convicts cardinal over fund

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A 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal and five others in Hong Kong have been fined for failing to register a now-defunct fund that helped those arrested during widespread protests three years ago.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, a retired bishop and outspoken democracy advocate, was arrested in May on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces under a Beijing-imposed national security law.

His arrest sent shockwaves through the Catholic community, although the Vatican only said it was monitoring the situation.

Although Zen and other activists at trial have not yet been charged with national security charges, they have been accused of failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pay the costs. medical and legal of protesters arrested from 2019 to 2021.

Zen, alongside singer Denise Ho, researcher Hui Po Keung and former lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho, served as trustees of the fund.

They were found guilty and each fined HK$4,000 (Australian $760). A sixth defendant, fund secretary Sze Ching-wee, was fined HK$2,500.

The ruling was significant because it was the first time residents had been charged with failing to register, Ng told reporters after Friday’s hearing.

Its effect on freedom of association is also significant, she said.

But Zen said her case should not be tied to the city’s religious freedoms. “I haven’t seen any erosion of religious freedoms in Hong Kong,” he said.

The 2019 protests were sparked by a since-withdrawn bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. The opposition turned into months of violent unrest in the city.

National security law has crippled Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement since 2020, with many activists arrested or imprisoned in the semi-autonomous city.

The British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

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