Cardinal Zen to stand trial in September over role with pro-democracy fund
A Nov. 18, 2014 file photo shows Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome. BOHUMIL PETRIK/CNA
By Jonah McKeown
Catholic News Agency
August 12, 2022
Cardinal Joseph Zen is set to stand trial next month, along with four other people, in connection to his role as a trustee of a pro-democracy legal fund. It appears he has not been indicted under Hong Kong’s national security law, which would have carried with it much more serious penalties.
Zen, 90, is the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and an outspoken advocate for religious freedom and democracy, and a sharp critic of the Vatican’s 2018 agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops.
Hong Kong authorities arrested Zen on May 11, and he was reportedly released on bail from Chai Wan Police Station later that day. At the time it appeared he would be charged under Hong Kong’s national security law, the Beijing-imposed measure which criminalizes broad definitions of sedition and collusion with foreign forces. Zen was arrested alongside several other prominent pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Margaret Ng and singer-activist Denise Ho.
All were later charged in connection with a failure to register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees until it dissolved itself in October 2021. The defendants’ lawyers are arguing that they had the right to associate under Hong Kong’s Basic Law — essentially the constitution.
In addition to Zen, Ho, and Ng, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung and ex-legislator Cyd Ho are accused of failing to apply for local society registration for the fund between July 16, 2019, and October 31, 2021, the Hong Kong Free Press reported. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty; Cyd Ho is already jailed for a different charge.
The Sept. 19-23 trial will be conducted in Chinese with the closing arguments in English, HKFP reported. Without the national security law indictment, the defendants could face only a fine.
Cardinal Zen offered Mass after his court appearance in May and prayed for Catholics in mainland China who are facing persecution. “Martyrdom is normal in our Church,” Zen said. “We may not have to do that, but we may have to bear some pain and steel ourselves for our loyalty to our faith.”
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with its own government, and its citizens have historically enjoyed greater freedom of religion than on the Chinese mainland, where religious believers of all stripes are routinely surveilled and restricted by the communist government. But in recent years, Beijing has sought to tighten control over religious practices in Hong Kong under the guise of protecting national security. In 2020, a sweeping National Security Law came into force, criminalizing previously protected civil liberties under the headings of “sedition“ and “foreign collusion.”
Millions of citizens of Hong Kong, including many Catholics, have in recent years participated in large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which came to a head in summer 2019. Catholic pro-democracy figures such as Cardinal Zen, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and lawyer Martin Lee have all garnered media attention for their arrests at the hands of Chinese authorities.
A Hong Kong priest told EWTN in April that the CCP is using ideological tactics such as re-education and propaganda to chip away at the freedom of religion in Hong Kong. A Reuters report from late December documented an October 2021 meeting at which Chinese bishops and religious leaders briefed senior Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on President Xi Jinping’s vision of religion with “Chinese characteristics.”
The Vatican has shied away from public criticism of the crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong since it first entered into a provisional agreement with China in 2018. That deal was meant to unify the country’s 12 million Catholics, divided between the underground Church and the Communist-administered Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and clear a path for the appointment of bishops for Chinese dioceses. Despite the deal, persecution of the underground Church has continued and, according to some, intensified.
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