A 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal and five others were yesterday fined by a Hong Kong court after being found guilty of failing to register a now-defunct fund that aimed to help people arrested in widespread protests three years ago.
Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君), a retired bishop and a vocal Hong Kong democracy advocate, arrived at court in a black outfit and used a walking stick.
He was in May arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law. His arrest sent shockwaves through Hong Kong’s Catholic community, and the Vatican at the time said it was monitoring the development of the situation closely.
While Zen the and other democracy advocates have not yet been charged with national security-related offenses, they were charged with failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pay medical and legal fees for arrested protesters beginning in 2019. It ceased operations in October last year.
Zen was a trustee of the fund, alongside singer Denise Ho (何韻詩), academic Hui Po-keung (許寶強), and former pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmakers Margaret Ng (吳靄儀) and Cyd Ho (何秀蘭).
They were each fined HK$4,000 (US$512).
A sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wee (施城威), was the fund’s secretary and was fined HK$2,500.
The Hong Kong Societies Ordinance requires local organizations to register or apply for an exemption within a month of their establishment. Those who failed to do so face a fine of up to HK$10,000, with no jail time, upon first conviction.
Handing down the verdict, Principal Magistrate Ada Yim (嚴舜儀) ruled that the fund is considered an organization that is obliged to register, as it was not purely for charity purposes.
The judgement holds significance as it is the first time that residents had to face a charge under the ordinance for failing to register, Ng told reporters after the hearing.
“The effect to other people, to the many, many citizens who are associated together to do one thing or another, and what will happen to them, is very important,” said Ng, a veteran lawyer. “It is also extremely important about the freedom of association in Hong Kong under Societies Ordinance.”
Zen said his case should not be linked with the territory’s religious freedoms.
“I haven’t seen any erosion of religious freedoms in Hong Kong,” he said.
The 2019 protests were sparked by a since-withdrawn bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Critics worried that such suspects would disappear into China’s opaque and frequently abusive legal system. Opposition morphed into months of unrest in the territory.
The National Security Law has crippled Hong Kong’s democracy ndmovement since its enactment in 2020, with many democracy advocates being arrested or jailed.
The impact of the law has also damaged faith in the future of the territory, with a growing number of people responding to the shrinking freedoms by emigrating.
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