90-Year-Old Cardinal Emeritus of Hong Kong Begins Trial Over Legal Aid Fund

Retired Hong Kong cardinal, Joseph Zen and activists have begun their trial over a protest fund. Cardinal Zen was originally detained earlier this year under a national security law Cardinal Joseph Zen. He entered a court for his trial in Hong Kong on September 26th, 2022 (the trial was postponed till now because the judge became ill with COVID). 
 The 90-year-old Hong Kong cardinal emeritus went on trial alongside five fellow democracy supporters concerning their role in running a fund to help defend people arrested in anti-government protests. 
The cardinal, one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholic clerics, was originally detained earlier this year under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong. His arrest for "colluding with foreign forces" shocked the city and attracted international attention. 
H e and his fellow defendants, including activist and singer Denise Ho and veteran human rights barrister Margaret Ng, are being prosecuted for the less serious offence of failing to properly register their defence fund as a society.

If convicted they face a fine of up to HK$10,000 ($1,274) but no jail time. All have pleaded not guilty.
 The Vatican has been quiet about his arrest, previously saying it was concerned and "following the development of the situation very closely". The trial comes at a sensitive time for the Vatican, which is working to renew its controversial agreement with Beijing later this year over the appointment of bishops in China. Shanghai-born Zen was critical, calling the deal a "sellout" of China's underground Catholics who have faced persecution for remaining loyal to Rome and refusing to recognise the Communist Party-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association. One of the most senior Catholic clerics to criticise the Vatican's response to Zen's arrest is German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller. "We abandoned him," Mueller told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero earlier this month, saying he was disappointed that a recent consistory did not speak in support of Zen. "This cardinal will be sacrificed on the altar of reason, to defend and implement the diplomatic agreement with Beijing," he added. Zen's group acted as trustees of a now-defunct fund that helped pay legal and medical costs for those arrested during huge and sometimes violent democracy protests three years ago. The "612 Humanitarian Relief Fund" is charged with not properly registering under the Societies Ordinance, a colonial-era law from 1911. The fund disbanded after national security police demanded it hand over operational details, including information about its donors and beneficiaries. 
 Revealing the democracy movement's widespread support, prosecutors on Monday explained the fund had raised as much as HK$270 million ($34 million) from 103,000 donations by the time it closed. The prosecution said "part of the fund was used for political activities and non-charity events", including donations to protest groups and activists overseas. The defense argued the fund's political views were irrelevant to the charge of whether it had registered correctly. China responded to the 2019 protests with a sweeping crackdown on dissent. A majority of the city's most prominent democracy activists are now in jail or have fled overseas, while dozens of civil society groups have shuttered. Some groups have been prosecuted for funding and registration irregularities, even though several had functioned without incident for years. Hong Kong's government says prosecutors are simply following the law. Critics contend a form of "lawfare" has been used to silence critical groups and bog them down in expensive legal fights. 
Edited from UCAN News