Priest fined for legal aid fund to help 2019 HK pro-democracy protesters

HONG KONG, 25 Nov 2022:

A Hong Kong court today found Catholic cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, and five activists guilty of failing to register as a society a legal aid fund they had raised for 2019 pro-democracy protesters.

The court said the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which paid the legal and medical expenses of protesters in 2019, was not registered as per the law of the semi-autonomous region.

Judge Ada Yim imposed a fine of HK$4,000 on the guilty trustees, including former lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho, singer Denise Ho and scholar Hui Po-Keung. The fund secretary Sze Ching-wee was fined HK$2,500.

The conviction is seen as the prelude to more legal trouble for the six accused as police investigate the group’s alleged collusion with foreigners.

According to the Hong Kong police, cardinal Zen and his five companions had urged foreign organisations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong.

Police are yet to charge the accused under China’s national security law, which can carry a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

Branded a “rogue bishop” when he headed the Hong Kong Catholic Church between 2002 and 2009, Zen later campaigned actively for greater democracy in Hong Kong and religious freedoms in mainland China.

The cardinal also subtly criticised the historic Roman Catholic Church agreement signed in 2018 with China, whereby the pope would recognise bishops appointed by the Chinese government, and the Chinese government would recognise the pope as the sole leader of the Catholic Church.

Zen has called the 2018 deal a “sell-out” by underground Catholics in China.

In 2020, he travelled to Rome to urge Pope Francis not to renew the deal. But he was denied a hearing.