HONG KONG — A 90-year-old Hong Kong Catholic cardinal and five others were fined after they were found guilty on Friday of failing to register a now-defunct fund to help people arrested during widespread protests three years ago.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, a retired bishop and the city’s vocal democracy advocate, arrived in court dressed in black and using a walking stick. He was first arrested in May on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under Beijing’s National Security Law. His arrest sent shock waves through the Catholic community, although the Vatican said only that it was closely monitoring the situation.
While Zent and other activists involved in the lawsuit have not yet been indicted on national security charges, they have been accused of failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which has provided medical and legal expenses to arrested protesters since 2019. operations in October 2021.
Zen, singer Denise Ho, scientist Hui Po Keung, former pro-democracy lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho were the fund’s trustees. They were each fined HK$4,000 ($512). The sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wee, was the fund’s secretary and was fined HK$2,500 ($320).
The Companies Ordinance requires local organizations to register or apply for exemption within one month of their establishment. Those who fail to do so face a fine of up to HK$10,000 ($1,273), with no jail time on first conviction.
In announcing the verdict, Chief Justice Ada Yim ruled that the fund is a registered organization as it does not serve purely charitable purposes.
The national security law has crippled Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement since it took effect 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 also damaged faith in the future of the international financial center, and more and more young professionals are responding to the shrinking of freedoms by emigrating overseas.