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Hong Kong convicts elderly cardinal for pro-democracy protest

Hong Kong convicts elderly cardinal for pro-democracy protest

Hong Kong convicts elderly cardinal for pro-democracy protest

Hong Kong convicts elderly cardinal for pro-democracy protest

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  • Cardinal Joseph Zen and five others found guilty of violating Hong Kong Societies Ordinance.
  • Fund was partially used to pay legal and medical expenses of pro-democracy protesters.
  • Case seen as marker of political freedom in Hong Kong during ongoing crackdown on protesters.
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A 90-year-old Catholic bishop and vocal opponent of the Communist Party in power in China was found guilty on Friday of a charge connected to his participation in a relief fund for the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019.

The West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts ruled that Cardinal Joseph Zen and five other people, including the Cantopop singer Denise Ho, violated the Societies Ordinance by failing to register the now-defunct “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” which was partially used to pay the legal and medical expenses of protesters.

The co-defendants and the silver-haired cardinal, who showed up in court with a walking staff, all disputed the accusation.

The issue comes at a difficult moment for the Vatican, which is getting ready to renegotiate a contentious agreement with Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China. The case is seen as a marker of political freedom in Hong Kong during an ongoing crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

Zen told reporters outside the court that he hoped people wouldn’t associate his conviction with freedom of religion.

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“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 said.

Zen, singer Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, academic Hui Po Keung, and politician Cyd Ho were fined HK$4,000 ($510) each.

The fund’s secretary, Sze Ching-wee, was fined HK$2,500.

All were accused with cooperating with foreign forces under a Beijing-backed national security law that carries a life sentence. They faced a lesser penalty under the Societies Ordinance, a colonial-era legislation with fines of up to HK$10,000 ($1,274) but no jail term for first-time offenders.

In September, the court heard that 100,000 deposits raised $34.4 million.

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The fund also sponsored pro-democracy rallies, including as paying for audio equipment used in 2019 to defy Beijing’s increasing control.

Zen and the other five defendants were not charged under the national security statute, but Beijing has routinely used the law to stifle criticism.

Since the law’s installation, most of the city’s notable pro-democracy figures have been detained or fled, and several independent media outlets and NGOs have closed.

The Hong Kong administration has refuted charges that the law has hindered freedoms, stating instead that it has restored calm in the city after the 2019 protest movement.

Hong Kong’s trial of Asia’s most senior cleric has put Beijing and the Vatican in the spotlight. Media asked the Vatican about Zen’s situation on Thursday but hasn’t heard back.

Zen rejected a 2018 Vatican-China deal on bishop appointments. Both parties wanted the last word on bishop nominations in mainland China, where religious activities are controlled and often outlawed.

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Zen, born to Catholic parents in Shanghai in 1932, came to Hong Kong as a teenager to avoid Communist authority. He became Bishop of Hong Kong in 2002 and retired in 2009.

Zen has been a notable campaigner for democracy, human rights, and religious freedom in Hong Kong. He’s been at the forefront of several of the city’s biggest rallies, from the 2003 rally against national security legislation to the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” for universal suffrage.

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