A judge in Hong Kong ruled on Tuesday, September 27, that there was sufficient evidence to justify a trial over the role of Cardinal Joseph Zen in a relief fund for the city’s pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The high-profile case has brought renewed focus on the warming ties between Beijing and the Vatican, said CNN in a report.
Cardinal Zen, one of Asia’s most senior Catholic clerics, was arrested by Hong Kong’s national security police in May along with three other leading democracy activists.
The 90-year-old cardinal appeared for the second consecutive day on Tuesday in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.
The prosecution called four police officers and one other witness to testify in the preliminary hearing.
Principal Magistrate Ada Yim ruled that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to make a prima facie case against the cardinal and five others for failing to properly register a fund to provide legal aid to pro-democracy protesters, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Cardinal Zen’s next trial date is set for October 26. He was arrested in May along with other democracy activists under Hong Kong’s strict national security law.
Under the current less serious charge, he could face a fine of about $1,200 but no jail time.
In addition to Cardinal Zen, who has been free on bail since early May, several others have been charged for failing to apply for local society registration for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund between 2019 and 2021.
Those accused with Zen are lawyer Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung, activist Sze Ching-wee, and ex-legislator Cyd Ho.
All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Cyd Ho is already jailed for a different charge. The fund helped pro-democracy protesters pay their legal fees until it dissolved itself in October 2021.
The legal representatives for the six defendants said that they will not testify in court or call any witnesses, but they will submit legal arguments on the interpretation of Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
The defendants’ lawyers have previously said they had the right to associate under Hong Kong’s Basic Law — the legal framework created when Great Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Zen’s trial has received international attention this week, with several Catholic leaders and human rights activists expressing solidarity for the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.
Paul Marshall, the director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team, told CNA that Zen’s trial “further undercuts China’s 1997 promise of ‘one country, two systems’ when Hong Kong was returned to its rule and shows the government cannot be trusted to keep its agreements.”
“The prosecution and trial of 90-year-old Cardinal Zen for peacefully raising funds shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government will go to crush any vestiges of dissent and free religion in Hong Kong or the mainland,” he said. – with a report by the Catholic News Agency