25 May 2022, The Tablet

Cardinal Zen pleads not guilty

by CNS

The 90-year-old cardinal was charged with failing to properly register the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.

Cardinal Zen pleads not guilty

Cardinal Zen, the former Bishop of Hong Kong, celebrates Mass on 24 May, the the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan and Mary, Help of Christians, when Catholics pray for the Church in China.
CNS/Tyrone Siu, Reuters

Cardinal Joesph Zen Ze-kiun has pleaded not guilty in a Hong Kong court to charges of failing to properly register a now-defunct fund to help anti-government protesters.

The 90-year-old cardinal was detained on 11 May under China’s national security law for “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces”, but that was not the charge made against him on Tuesday.

Instead, he and the four others were charged with failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, set up to offer financial assistance to those involved in anti-government protests in 2019. It was disbanded last year after coming under scrutiny by authorities.

The court hearing on 24 May coincided with the feasts of Our Lady of Sheshan and Mary Help of Christians, a date marked by Catholics to pray for the church in China. Later that evening, Cardinal Zen celebrated Mass for the feast.

All five defendants pleaded not guilty. If convicted of the improper registration, each defendant could incur a fine of about US$1,300. Their trial will begin on 19 September.

The defendants’ arrests under the security law provoked an international outcry. The law made participating in or supporting the pro-democracy movement crimes of subversion and collusion with foreign organizations and allowed for those remanded to be extradited to mainland China. Punishment ranges between a minimum of three years and a maximum of life imprisonment.

Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s security minister, told local media the international criticism was a “classic smearing campaign.”

In a statement on 12 May, the Diocese of Hong Kong urged “the Hong Kong Police and the judicial authorities to handle Cardinal Zen’s case in accordance with justice, taking into consideration our concrete human situation”.

It said it was “extremely concerned about the condition and safety of Cardinal Joseph Zen, and we are offering our special prayers for him”.

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