Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong found guilty of working with relief funds


A Hong Kong court on Friday found Cardinal Joseph Zen, the city’s most outspoken senior Roman Catholic cleric and bishop emeritus, guilty of failing to properly register a now-defunct humanitarian fund.

The verdict came after Zen’s arrest in May, along with the arrest of four others. All were accused of collaborating with a foreign entity while they were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, under a 2020 national security law Beijing imposed to quell dissent.

The fund helped scores of protesters arrested during the ongoing pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong three years ago. She provided financial assistance to individuals and paid for their legal and medical expenses.

Judge Ada Yim fined Zen HK$4,000 (US$512) for failing to register the fund under the Securities Ordinance, a colonial-era law dating back to 1911. Due to the 2019 protests, Yim said the Government is responsible for regulating affiliated groups and political organizations, regardless of local or foreign affiliations, to “protect national security, public tranquility and public order.”

The 90-year-old Zen, who was a prominent critic of the Chinese Communist Party, appeared to support himself with a cane in court. He was not threatened with imprisonment on the charges.

“I hope this case will not be linked to freedom of religion,” Zen said after leaving the court. “I am a supporter of humanitarian work.”

The other former trustees and a secretary of the Humanitarian Fund, including senior attorney Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po-keung, and popular singer Denise Ho, were also found guilty and fined by Yim.

His arrest this spring sparked strong condemnation from the United States and others. The Vatican said it was “following the evolution of the situation with the utmost attention”. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong declined to comment on Friday.

The Church’s relations with China have been a growing concern. In October, the Vatican renewed a controversial secret deal with Beijing to appoint Roman Catholic bishops in China. The United States had expressed concern that such an agreement would further marginalize underground Chinese priests loyal to Rome.

Last week, the Catholic Church in China hosted a second online meeting with 50 Hong Kong priests to discuss how Bible translation appropriately mediates exchanges about “Sinicization” — the influence of Chinese language, culture and other social factors on non-Chinese societies could norms.

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