A 90-year-old former bishop and outspoken critic of China’s ruling Communist Social gathering was discovered responsible Friday on a cost referring to his function in a reduction fund for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Cardinal Joseph Zen and 5 others, together with the Cantopop singer Denise Ho, contravened the Societies Ordinance by failing to register the now-defunct “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund” that was partly used to pay protesters’ authorized and medical charges, the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts dominated.
The silver-haired cardinal, who appeared in court docket with a strolling stick, and his co-defendants had all denied the cost.
The case is taken into account a marker of political freedom in Hong Kong throughout an ongoing crackdown on the pro-democracy motion, and comes at a delicate time for the Vatican, which is getting ready to resume a controversial take care of Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China.
Outdoors the court docket, Zen informed reporters that he hoped folks wouldn’t hyperlink his conviction to spiritual freedom.
“I saw many people overseas are concerned about a cardinal being arrested. It is not related to religious freedom. I am part of the fund. (Hong Kong) has not seen damage (to) its religious freedom,” Zen mentioned.
Zen and 4 different trustees of the fund – singer Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po Keung, and politician Cyd Ho – had been sentenced to fines of HK$4,000 ($510) every.
A sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wee, who was the fund’s secretary, was fined HK$2,500 ($320).
All had initially been charged below the controversial Beijing-backed nationwide safety regulation for colluding with international forces, which carries a most penalty of life imprisonment. These expenses had been dropped they usually as an alternative confronted a lesser cost below the Societies Ordinance, a century-old colonial-era regulation punishable with fines of as much as HK$10,000 ($1,274) however not jail time for first-time offenders.
The court docket heard in September that the authorized fund raised the equal of $34.4 million via 100,000 deposits.
Along with offering monetary help to protesters, the fund was additionally used to sponsor pro-democracy rallies, corresponding to paying for audio tools used in 2019 throughout avenue protests to withstand Beijing’s tightening grip.
Though Zen and the opposite 5 defendants had been spared from being charged below the nationwide safety regulation, the laws imposed by Beijing over Hong Kong in June 2020 in a bid to quell the protests has repeatedly been used to curb dissent.
For the reason that imposition of the regulation, a lot of the metropolis’s distinguished pro-democracy figures have both been arrested or gone into exile, whereas a number of impartial media shops and non-government organizations have been shuttered.
The Hong Kong authorities has repeatedly denied criticism that the regulation – which criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with international forces – has stifled freedoms, claiming as an alternative it has restored order within the metropolis after the 2019 protest motion.
Hong Kong’s prosecution of one among Asia’s most senior clergyman has solid the connection between Beijing and the Holy See into sharp focus.
Zen has strongly opposed a controversial settlement struck in 2018 between the Vatican and China over the appointment of bishops. Beforehand either side had demanded the ultimate say on bishop appointments in mainland China, the place spiritual actions are closely monitored and generally banned.
Born to Catholic mother and father in Shanghai in 1932, Zen fled to Hong Kong along with his household to flee looming Communist rule as a teen. He was ordained as a priest in 1961 and made Bishop of Hong Kong in 2002, earlier than retiring in 2009.
Often known as the “conscience of Hong Kong” amongst his supporters, Zen has lengthy been a distinguished advocate for democracy, human rights and non secular freedom. He has been on the entrance traces of among the metropolis’s most necessary protests, from the mass rally in opposition to nationwide safety laws in 2003 to the “Umbrella Movement” demanding common suffrage in 2014.