Hong Kong: 90-year-old pro-democracy cardinal Joseph Zen in court


90-year-old Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen appeared in a Hong Kong court on Tuesday, where he was charged with failing to properly register a fund to help pro-democracy protesters.

After his appearance, the cardinal celebrated, in the presence of hundreds of faithful Catholics, a mass dedicated to the churches of mainland China.

Bishop Zen, one of the highest dignitaries of the Catholic Church in Asia, was arrested in early May along with four other leading figures in the pro-democracy movement, including singer Denise Ho and lawyer Margaret Ng on behalf of the National Security Act.

These personalities were the administrators of a fund, now dissolved, offering to finance part of the legal and medical costs of those arrested during the major pro-democracy demonstrations of 2019.

They were arrested for "conspiring to collusion with foreign forces", a charge that carries life in prison under the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.

But the court has so far only accepted the accusation of failure to register the fund with the police, which does not stem from the national security law and incurs a fine of 10.000 Hong Kong dollars ( 1.190 euros) for a first conviction.

All defendants pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. The trial will begin on September 19.

The prosecutor's office assured that it had 10 cases of exhibits and eight hours of video recordings to support the charges.

The investigation against the '612 Humanitarian Relief Fund' was launched after one of the trustees, academic Hui Po-keung, was arrested at the airport as he was about to take up a post at a university. European.

Cardinal Zen's arrest has sparked outrage in many Western countries, which accuse China of ending the freedoms once promised to Hong Kong.

Diplomats from several European countries, including Germany, France, Sweden and Italy, attended the hearing on Tuesday.

The city's Minister of Security, Chris Tang, brushed off the criticism Monday in the local press, calling it "a classic smear campaign."

" The least of it " 

Vicar General of Hong Kong Joseph Chan attended the hearing on Tuesday, but said he was not representing the diocese there.

Cardinal Zen "was my teacher, so I came," he told AFP.

Mr. Chan said he was mainly concerned about the health of Bishop Zen, even though the latter appeared to be in good spirits.

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of faithful came to attend a mass celebrated by the cardinal at the Church of the Holy Cross in the east of Hong Kong Island.

"We must of course respect the rule of law, but using the law to oppress is certainly not the raison d'être of a rule of law," Louise, a teacher, told AFP.

“When a man is the victim of unjust laws, is it not the least of things to come and pay homage to him”, argued for his part Philip, working in the health sector.

The prelate dedicated the Mass to churches in mainland China, where millions of faithful cannot freely practice their religion under the regime of the officially atheist Communist Party which strictly controls religious institutions recognized by the authorities.

In his homily, Cardinal Zen criticized a Vatican-China deal that allows Beijing to appoint bishops with the Pope's approval, saying it was 'misguided' despite having 'good intentions' .

It would be necessary to reunite the faithful who are under the jurisdiction of the Church subservient to the Beijing regime and the believers of the underground Church, illegal in the eyes of the Chinese authorities, he estimated.

But "it seems that the times are not yet ripe", he nevertheless underlined, alluding to the underground clergy who refuse to submit to the demands of the authorities.

He invited prayers for the churches in Burma led by Burmese Cardinal Bo, and for "the brothers and sisters who cannot join (the faithful) this evening because they are not free".

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock / Yung Chi Wai Derek

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Summary of news from March 22, 2023

By The Editorial Board
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