Investigated for “collusion with foreign forces”, they are accused of not having registered a fund that helped those detained in the protests for democracy
After its postponement last week because its judge had contracted covid, this Monday the oral hearing against Cardinal Emeritus Joseph Zen and five other Democratic activists began in Hong Kong. In a case with a clear political background: all of them were arrested in May under the National Security Law imposed by the Chinese regime, which criminalizes practically all opposition in the former British colony. But at the moment they are only being tried for not having legally registered an organization called the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which offered financial support in court to those detained in the demonstrations calling for democracy that shook Hong Kong in 2019.
As administrators of said fund, on the bench sit, in addition to Cardinal Zen, the famous singer Denise Ho, former opposition deputies Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho and a former professor at Lingnan University, Hui Po-keung. The last defendant, Sze Ching-wee, was the organization’s secretary. All of them face a fine of 10,000 Hong Kong dollars (1,275 euros) for failing to register the fund under the Companies Ordinance, a colonial-era law dating back to 1911.
Although it is a misdemeanor punishable only with an administrative sanction, all those prosecuted continue to be investigated for alleged “collusion with foreign forces”, punishable by up to life imprisonment by the draconian National Security Law imposed by Beijing on June 30, 2020 .
In September of last year, the Police in charge of applying the National Security Law already warned that it was on the track of Fund 612 and had asked its managers for information about the donations they received and the money they gave for legal assistance to the accused. for the protests. Like virtually all critical Hong Kong organizations targeted by the law, the fund stopped accepting donations and ended up closing in October 2021 due to the “current political climate.” Police are also investigating another association, called the Alliance for True Democracy, which helped collect the donations.
Criticism against the regime
In an international climate increasingly polarized by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the arrest of Cardinal Zen and his companions sparked a new wave of criticism in the West against the Chinese regime for its repression in Hong Kong. Although the former British colony enjoyed greater political and social freedoms than the rest of the country, they were annulled by the National Security Law and the reform of the Electoral Law, which vetoes the opposition on the grounds that “only patriots can govern Hong Kong”.
Added to the outrage at the political persecution against Cardinal Zen, one of the most critical voices for democracy against Beijing, is his high age, 90, and his fragile state of health, as was seen on Monday when he arrived leaning on a baton to the West Kowloon Court. Although none of the defendants made statements, all of them have pleaded not guilty, according to Agence France Presse. After the oral hearing, which will last all this week, both parties will present their conclusions at the end of October and beginning of November and the trial will be seen for sentencing.
The process against Cardinal Zen comes at a particularly delicate moment, since China and the Vatican should renew the agreement they signed in 2018 for the consensual appointment of bishops in the coming days. Although the details of this kind of Concordat are not known, it was extended in 2020 for another two years and Beijing and the Vatican are negotiating its renewal. Beyond its symbolic value, its importance is in question because in these four years only six dioceses of the thirty that were vacant have been filled.
Although Cardinal Zen is against said agreement and has warned Pope Francis not to renew it, the Holy See is cautious about prosecuting it and continues to approach positions with the Chinese regime, with which it does not maintain diplomatic relations. Instead, the Vatican continues to recognize Taiwan, the ‘de facto’ democratic and independent island claimed by Beijing. This lack of official ties has caused a division between the official Church, controlled by the Communist Party, and the underground, which remains loyal to the Vatican and whose faithful and bishops continue to be persecuted.
Cardinal Zen has always come out in his defense, interviewed twice by the newspaper ‘ABC’. In 2007, ten years after the return of Hong Kong to China, he already warned of the progressive curtailment of freedoms suffered by the former colony. A decade that he described as “frustrating” because he claimed that even then there was “less freedom than before.” Twenty-five years after the transfer of sovereignty, which took place on July 1, Cardinal Zen sits on the bench.
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