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 fund meant to help people arrested three years ago during the widespread protests.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, a retired bishop and an outspoken advocate for the city’s democracy, arrived at court wearing a black outfit and using a cane. He was first arrested in May on suspicion of conspiring with foreign troops under a National Security Law imposed by Beijing. His arrest sent shockwaves through the Catholic community, although the Vatican only said it was closely monitoring the development of the situation.
While Zen and other activists have not yet been charged with national security charges at trial, they were charged with failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which as of 2019 helped pay medical and legal costs for arrested protesters. operations in October 2021.
Zen, along with singer Denise Ho, scholar Hui Po Keung, former pro-democracy legislators Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho, were trustees of the fund. They were each fined 4,000 Hong Kong dollars ($512). A sixth defendant, Sze Ching-wee, was the secretary of the fund and was fined HK$2,500 ($320).
The Society Ordinance obliges local organizations to register or to apply for an exemption within one month of establishment. Those who fail to do so risk a fine of up to HK$10,000 ($1,273), without jail time, on first conviction.
Chief Magistrate Ada Yim ruled that the fund is considered an organization that requires registration because it is not purely for charitable purposes.
The national security law has crippled Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement since its enactment 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 damaged confidence in the international financial center’s future, with a growing number of young professionals responding to diminishing freedoms by emigrating abroad.