29 September 2022, The Tablet

Zen trial adjourned before defence can call witnesses

by CNS

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a former bishop of Hong Kong, was detained on 11 May under the national security law.

Zen trial adjourned before defence can call witnesses

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong on 26 September.
CNS/Tyrone Siu, Reuters

After only two days, the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court in Hong Kong yesterday adjourned the trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and four co-defendants, until 26 October.

The trial began on 26 September and had been scheduled for five days, but the magistrate adjourned the trial when defence lawyers attempted to cross-examine police witnesses called by the prosecution.

The outspoken cardinal, a former bishop of Hong Kong, was detained on 11 May under the Beijing-imposed national security law. He and his co-defendants were then charged with failing to register properly their 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which offered financial, legal and psychological help to people arrested during the 2019 protest movement.

They have pleaded not guilty.

The prosecution said the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund had raised US$34.4 million and that some of the money was used for “political activities and non-charity events,” including funding protest groups.

The defence countered that the defendants had a right to form an association under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that critics claim has been subverted in recent years by authorities in Beijing.

If found guilty, the defendants could each incur a fine of about $1,300.

Cardinal Zen’s co-defendants are, like him, well known Hong Kong democracy activists: barrister Margaret Ng, academic Hui Po-keung, former lawmaker Cyd Ho – already in jail – and pop singer Denise Ho.

The prosecution said the defendants should have registered the fund within one month of starting its operation. When the defence tried to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, defence questions were overruled as irrelevant.

The trial was adjourned before the defence could call witnesses or make its case.

This comes as the Chinese central government prepares to renew for the second time its two-year deal with the Vatican concerning the appointment of bishops. Vatican officials left Beijing on 2 September, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, has said a deal would be completed by the end of the year, but previous deals have been concluded in September and October.

Although no details of the agreement have been published, Cardinal Zen has been a relentless critic of the deal since before it first was signed in 2018. He has described it as a “sell-out” and says it has killed the unofficial or underground church community in China, whose leaders refuse to register with the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The adjournment also places the trial after the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which begins on 16 October, that will select officials to rule the country for the next five years. Officials in Beijing are moving to minimise any controversy ahead of the event.

The more serious charges that Cardinal Zen and his co-defendants face under the national security law are for “colluding with foreign forces”. They have yet to be indicted on that charge but, if they are, they can be extradited to mainland China for trial. Punishment ranges from three years to life imprisonment.

There has been speculation that officials in Beijing, which now directly controls Hong Kong, would be happy to have Cardinal Zen found guilty of the current low-level charge to keep him on a tighter leash.

The Vatican has been largely silent on the charges and trial. But Cardinal Fernando Filoni, one of the Vatican top’s China experts, recently came out in support of his Hong Kong colleague in the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, saying he “is a man of God; at times intemperate, but submissive to the love of Christ”.

“He is an authentic Chinese. No one among those I have known, can, I say, be truly as loyal as he is,” Cardinal Filoni wrote.

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