Cardinal Zen, five others fined, but larger charge looms

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Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, center, senior barrister Margaret Ng, and former member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong Cyd Ho, leave the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court in Hong Kong Nov. 25, 2022. [CNS photo/Tyrone Siu, Reuters]

By  Catholic News Service

HONG KONG – A Hong Kong Court fined Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 90, and five others for failing to register a humanitarian fund set up to help people arrested in anti-government protests pay legal fees.

Cardinal Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong, was fined 4,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$512) for failing to register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. He was a trustee of the fund, and four other trustees and its secretary also were charged under the Societies Ordinance, a colonial-era law dating to 1911 that has since been revised.

The ordinance says “any club, company, partnership or association of persons, whatever the nature or objects, to which the provisions of (the) ordinance apply” must register with the police commissioner or ask for an exemption. Prosecutors said the now-defunct fund should have been registered with police due to its “massive” size and “systematic” mode of operation.

The other former trustees fined the same amount were barrister Margaret Ng, former lawmaker Cyd Ho, scholar Hui Po Keung and popular singer Denise Ho. The fund’s secretary, Sze Ching-wee, was fined 2,500 Hong Kong dollars for his role.

In May, all six also were arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under a harsh 2020 national security law that China’s ruling Communist Party imposed on the city to stifle dissent after protests had roiled the city’s streets during the second half of 2019. Cardinal Zen has long been an outspoken pro-democracy advocate and supported protesters at the time, as he had done previously.

The six have yet to be charged under the national security law.

“I hope this case would not be linked to religious freedom,” Cardinal Zen told reporters after the sentencing. “I haven’t seen any erosion of religious freedoms in Hong Kong.

“I am a supporter of humanitarian work,” he said.

Ng told reporters after the ruling: “The effect to other people – to the many, many citizens who are associated together to do one thing or another, and what will happen to them – is very important.

“It is also extremely important about the freedom of association in Hong Kong under (the) Societies Ordinance.”

Most observers saw the fine as a warning to Cardinal Zen and his colleagues to desist from any further criticism of Beijing.

The Vatican has not made any explicit comment but issued a report noting the conviction and said: “Further investigation into charges of collusion with foreign forces still looms, with penalties such as life imprisonment under the National Security Law passed in June 2020.”

Ahead of the National Security Law’s implementation, Hong Kong Diocese’s justice and peace commission joined 85 other social justice organizations signing an open letter criticizing the law.

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