The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Outspoken Hong Kong cardinal found guilty for work with humanitarian fund

Cardinal Joseph Zen leaves court in Hong Kong on Friday after being found guilty and fined for failing to properly register a humanitarian fund for pro-democracy protesters several years ago. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)
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A Hong Kong court on Friday found Cardinal Joseph Zen, the most outspoken senior Roman Catholic cleric in the city and its bishop emeritus, guilty of failing to properly register a now-defunct humanitarian fund.

The verdict came after Zen’s arrest in May, along with the arrest of four other people. Under a 2020 national security law that Beijing imposed to stifle dissent, all were accused of colluding with a foreign entity while trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.

The fund helped scores of protesters arrested during the sustained pro-democracy protests that convulsed Hong Kong three years ago. It provided individuals with financial assistance and paid their legal and medical fees.

Judge Ada Yim fined Zen 4,000 Hong Kong dollars ($512) for failing to register the fund under the securities ordinance, a colonial-era law dating to 1911. Because of the 2019 protests, Yim said the government has a responsibility to regulate groups connected to political organizations, regardless of local or overseas ties, to “protect national security, public serenity and public order.”

The 90-year-old Zen, who has been a prominent critic of the Chinese Communist Party, appeared to be using a walking stick to support himself as he stood in court. He had not faced a prison sentence for the charge.

“I hope this case would not be linked to religious freedom,” Zen said after leaving the court. “I am a supporter of humanitarian work.”

The other former trustees and a secretary of the humanitarian fund, including senior barrister Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po-keung and popular singer Denise Ho, also were found guilty and fined by Yim.

His arrest this spring elicited strong condemnation from the United States and others. The Vatican said it was “following the evolution of the situation with extreme attention.” The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong declined to comment Friday.

The church’s relations with China have drawn increasing concern. In October, the Vatican renewed a controversial secret agreement with Beijing on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in China. The United States had voiced concern that such an arrangement would further marginalize underground Chinese priests loyal to Rome.

Last week, the Catholic Church in China hosted a second online meeting with 50 Hong Kong priests to discuss how the biblical translation could properly convey exchanges on “sinicization” — the influencing of non-Chinese societies through Chinese language, culture and other social factors and norms.