Cardinal Joseph Zen (90) and five other human rights activists were sentenced in Hong Kong on Friday for failing to register an aid fund for democracy activists. The court in West Kowloon fined the former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong and the five other defendants from science, society and art between 2,500 (307.41 euros) and 4,000 Hong Kong dollars (491.86 euros), according to Kathpress.
The temporary arrest of the six accused in May and the trial had sparked outrage around the world. The now-defunct Fund 612 provided financial, legal and psychological help to people arrested in the 2019 pro-democracy protests. According to the public prosecutor’s office, a good 100,000 individual donations totaling 270 million Hong Kong dollars were paid into the fund.
The chief judge stated that under the applicable regulation, the sponsors had to apply for registration of the fund or possible exemption within one month of its establishment. The Foundation does not fall into any of the exempt categories set out in the legislation as it was not exclusively charitable but political. The defense had denied this.
Zen is considered a prominent critic of the regime
Cardinal Zen, Bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 to 2009, is one of the most influential representatives of the Catholic Church in Asia. Beyond his tenure, the Salesian monk of Don Bosco is one of the prominent critics of the Chinese government and its religious policies. Zen is also the harshest critic in the difficult dialogue between the Vatican and the Chinese leadership in Beijing. Again and again he warned against too big concessions by Rome to the communist regime, which was not trustworthy.
Cardinal Zen and the five democracy activists were arrested on charges of “conspiring with foreign states and powers”. In addition to Zen, the pop singer and activist Denise Ho and the prominent lawyer Margaret Ng have now been convicted. The convict also faces charges of “conspiracy with foreign states”. This can result in a life sentence.
In 2020, the so-called security law was passed in the former British crown colony to stop the pro-democracy protests. When Britain returned Hong Kong in 1997, Beijing agreed to respect the democratic freedoms that prevailed there for another 50 years, based on the “one country, two systems” principle. Critics accuse Beijing of suppressing these freedoms with the security law. Many democracy activists are now in prison or have fled abroad. (afp)