A 90-year-old former bishop and outspoken critic of China’s ruling Communist Party pleaded guilty Friday to charges related to his role in a relief fund for Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests.
Cardinal Joseph Zane and five others, including Cantopop singer Dennis Ho, violated the Societies Ordinance by failing to register the now-defunct “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” which was used in part to pay protesters’ legal and medical fees. Used to be, the West Colony Magistrates. The courts gave a verdict.
The silver-haired cardinal, who appeared in court with a walking stick, and his co-defendants all denied the charge.
This case is considered as a symbol of political freedom. Hong Kong The move comes amid an ongoing crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, and at a sensitive time for the Vatican, which is preparing to renew a controversial deal with Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China.
Zain and four others – singer Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po Kyung, and politician Syed Ho – who were trustees of the fund were each fined HK$4,000 ($510).
A sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wee, the fund’s secretary, was fined HK$2,500 ($320).
All were initially charged with colluding with foreign forces under a controversial Beijing-backed national security law, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Those charges were dropped and they instead faced a lesser charge under the Societies Ordinance, a century-old colonial-era law punishable by a fine of up to HK$10,000 ($1,274) but prison terms for first-time offenders. Not the time.
The court heard in September that the legal fund raised the equivalent of $34.4 million through 100,000 deposits.
In addition to providing financial support to protesters, the fund was also used to sponsor pro-democracy rallies, such as paying for the audio equipment used. During street protests in 2019 to resist Beijing’s tightening grip.
Although Zen and the other five defendants were shielded from prosecution under the National Security Law, the legislation imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June 2020 has been repeatedly used to crack down on protests. Is.
Since the implementation of the law, most of the city’s pro-democracy figures have been either arrested or exiled, while many independent media outlets and non-governmental organizations have been shut down.
Hong Kong’s government has repeatedly denied criticism that the law – which criminalizes acts of secession, sedition, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – has stifled freedoms, claiming that It has restored peace in the city after the 2019 protest movement.
Hong Kong’s prosecution of one of Asia’s most senior priests has put the relationship between Beijing and the Holy See in the spotlight.
Zen has strongly opposed it. The controversial deal was signed in 2018. The Vatican and China have previously sought a final say on bishop appointments in mainland China, where religious activities are closely monitored and sometimes banned.
Born to Catholic parents in Shanghai in 1932, Zen fled with his family to Hong Kong as a teenager to escape Communist rule. He was ordained a priest in 1961 and was made Bishop of Hong Kong in 2002 before retiring in 2009.
Known among his supporters as “the conscience of Hong Kong”, Zain has long been a prominent advocate for democracy, human rights and religious freedom. He has been at the forefront of some of the city’s most significant protests, from a mass rally against national security legislation in 2003 to the “Umbrella Movement” calling for universal suffrage in 2014.