HONG KONG – A 90-year-old Catholic cardinal and five others in Hong Kong were fined after they were found guilty on Friday of failing to register a now-defunct foundation meant to help people arrested during mass protests three years ago.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, a retired bishop and active defender of the city’s democracy, arrived in court dressed in black and wielding a cane. He was first arrested in May on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law. His arrest caused shock in the Catholic community, although the Vatican only said that it was closely monitoring the development of the situation.
Although Zen and the other activists have yet to face national security charges at trial, they have been accused of lack of proper registration 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund, which helped pay for the medical and legal expenses of arrested protesters starting in 2019. It ceased operations in October 2021.
Zeng, along with singer Denise Ho, academic Hui Po Keng, and former pro-democracy lawmakers Margaret Ng and Sid Ho were trustees of the foundation. They were each fined HK$4,000 ($512). A sixth defendant, Sze Ching-Wee, was the foundation’s secretary and was fined HK$2,500 ($320).
The Societies Ordinance requires local organizations to register or apply for an exemption within a month of their formation. Those who fail to do so face a fine of up to HK$10,000 ($1,273) with no jail time on a first conviction.
Delivering her verdict, Chief Justice Ada Yim ruled that the foundation was considered a registrable organization because it did not have a purely charitable purpose.
The national security law has crippled Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement since it was passed 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 impact of the law has also undermined faith in the future of the international financial center, which has a growing number of young professionals responding to diminishing freedoms by emigrating abroad.
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