Hong Kong condemns 90-year-old cardinal over pro-democracy protest fund

Hong Kong

A 90-year-old former bishop and outspoken critic of China’s ruling Communist Occasion was discovered responsible on Friday on expenses associated to his function in a aid fund for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Cardinal Joseph Zen and 5 others, together with Cantopop singer Denise Ho, violated the Firms Ordinance by failing to register the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Reduction Fund, which was utilized in half to pay authorized and medical payments of the protesters, the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts dominated.

The silver-haired cardinal, who appeared in court docket with a strolling stick, and his co-defendants all denied the cost.

The case is seen as an indication of political freedom in Hong Kong amid an ongoing crackdown on the pro-democracy motion, and comes at a delicate time for the Vatican because it prepares to resume a controversial cope with Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China.

Zen and 4 others – singer Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po Keung and politician Cyd Ho – who have been trustees of the fund have been every sentenced to fines of HK$4,000 ($510).

A sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wee, who was the secretary of the fund, was fined HK$2,500 ($320).

All have been initially charged beneath the controversial Beijing-backed nationwide safety legislation for collusion with overseas forces, which carried the utmost penalty of life in jail. These expenses have been dropped they usually as an alternative confronted a lesser cost beneath the Societies Ordinance, a centuries-old colonial-era legislation punishable by fines of as much as HK$10,000 ($1,274) however not jail time for offenders for the primary time.

The court docket heard in September that the authorized fund raised the equal of $34.4 million by 100,000 deposits.

Along with offering monetary support to protesters, the fund has additionally been used to sponsor pro-democracy rallies, akin to paying for used audio gear in 2019 throughout road protests to withstand Beijing’s grip.

Though Zen and the 5 different defendants have been spared prosecution beneath the nationwide safety legislation, laws imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in June 2020 in an try to crack down on protests has repeatedly been used to curb dissent.

For the reason that imposition of the legislation, many of the metropolis’s outstanding pro-democracy figures have been arrested or gone into exile, whereas a number of unbiased media and non-governmental organizations have been shut down.

Hong Kong’s authorities has repeatedly denied criticism that the legislation – which criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with overseas forces – has stifled freedoms, saying as an alternative it has restored order to town after the protest motion of 2019.

The Hong Kong trial of considered one of Asia’s oldest clergymen has introduced the connection between Beijing and the Holy See into sharp focus.

Zen strongly opposed a controversial deal reached in 2018 between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops. Either side had beforehand requested for the ultimate say on bishop appointments in mainland China, the place spiritual actions are closely monitored and generally banned.

Born to Catholic dad and mom in Shanghai in 1932, Zen fled to Hong Kong together with his household to flee impending communist rule as a youngster. He was ordained a priest in 1961 and appointed bishop of Hong Kong in 2002, earlier than retiring in 2009.

Often known as the “Hong Kong conscience” amongst his supporters, Zen has lengthy been a outstanding advocate of democracy, human rights and non secular freedom. He has been on the forefront of among the metropolis’s largest protests, from a mass demonstration towards nationwide safety laws in 2003 to the “Umbrella Motion” calling for common suffrage in 2014.