HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong’s 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal and five others were fined Friday for failing to register a foundation intended to help people arrested in widespread protests three years ago. .
Cardinal Joseph Zen, a retired bishop and the city’s vocal advocate for democracy, appeared in court dressed in black and wielding a cane. He was first arrested in May on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under Beijing’s National Security Law. His arrest shocked the Catholic community, although the Vatican only said it was closely monitoring the development of the situation.
Although Zen and the other activists in court have not yet been charged with national security charges, they have been accused of failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund, which has helped pay medical and legal expenses for arrested protesters since 2019. Operations in October 2021.
Zen was a trustee of the foundation along with singer Denise Ho, scientist Hui Po Keung, and former pro-democracy MPs Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho. They were each fined 4,000 Hong Kong dollars ($512). The sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wei, was the foundation’s secretary and was fined HK$2,500 ($320).
The Societies Ordinance requires local organizations to register or apply for exemption within one month of incorporation. Those who fail to do so face fines of up to HK$10,000 (US$1,273) with no jail time upon first conviction.
Delivering the verdict, Chief Justice Ada Yim ruled that the foundation was considered a registered organization because it was not for purely charitable purposes.
Ng told reporters after the hearing that the decision marked the first time residents had to face charges under the ordinance for failing to register.
“The impact on other people, on a large number of citizens who come together to do this or that, and what happens to them is very important,” the veteran lawyer said. “It is also extremely important in relation to the freedom of association in Hong Kong under the Societies Ordinance.”
But Zen said his work should not be associated with the city’s religious liberties. “I have not seen any erosion of religious freedom in Hong Kong.
The 2019 protests were sparked by a bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. Critics worried that suspects would disappear in China’s opaque and often abusive legal system. The opposition turned into months of violent riots in the city.
The National Security Law has crippled Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement since it took effect in 2020, with many activists arrested or jailed in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The law’s impact has also damaged confidence in the future of the international financial center, with growing numbers of young professionals responding to reduced freedoms by emigrating abroad.