Hong Kong: Cardinal Joseph Zen tried for a fund to help pro-democracy protesters


The trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, and five pro-democracy activists, all accused of running an aid fund for anti-government protesters, opened in a Hong Kong court on Monday.

Cardinal Zen, one of Asia's most senior Catholic prelates, was arrested in May for "colluding with foreign forces", sparking international outrage.

However, he has not, at this stage, been charged with this offense which would make him incur life imprisonment, according to the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.

With his co-defendants, including singer Denise Ho and lawyer Margaret Ng, he is currently only on trial for failure to register the fund as a company.

All four incur a fine of 10.000 Hong Kong dollars (1.300 euros) and have pleaded not guilty.

The now-disbanded 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund was intended to finance part of the legal and medical costs of those arrested during the massive pro-democracy protests of 2019.

This movement was followed by a severe takeover by Beijing in Hong Kong. Most of the city's pro-democracy figures are now in prison or have fled abroad, and dozens of associations have closed their doors.

The Vatican reacted cautiously to Bishop Zen's arrest, saying only that it was "monitoring developments very closely."

The case comes at a delicate time for the Catholic Church, which is seeking to renew at the end of the year an agreement that allows Beijing to appoint bishops in China with the approval of the pope.

Mgr. Zen is critical of this agreement, which he considers harmful for the underground Chinese Church, which refuses to submit to the demands of the authorities.

One of the most senior Catholic prelates to have criticized the Vatican's attitude towards Bishop Zen is German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller.

“We abandoned him,” he told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero in early September, saying he was disappointed that a recent consistory – a meeting of cardinals in Rome – did not come out in favor of Bishop Zen.

“I would not want the silence of the consistory on Bishop Zen to reveal the fact that this cardinal will be sacrificed on the altar of reason, to defend and apply the diplomatic agreement with Beijing. I feel this risk coming, and I feel pain, ”he lamented.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock / Yung Chi Wai Derek

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