Cardinal Joseph Zen, the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, went on trial Monday for charges related to a pro-democracy organization with which he is affiliated.
Zen, 90, and several other defendants, who are board members for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, are being charged under the Societies Ordinance, a century-old colonial-era law, for failing to register the Relief Fund.
The defendants initially faced a much more serious charge, however: collusion with foreign forces, under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing. Convictions in that case could have landed them in prison for life.
Zen, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party, was arrested by Hong Kong’s national security police in May along with other democracy activists, including former Hong Kong legislator Cyd Ho, affiliated with the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. The fund was set up in June 2019 to help pay the legal and medical fees for the former British colony’s pro-democracy protests that year. The charge carries a fine of up to $1,274 but not jail time. All defendants have pleaded not guilty.
On Monday morning, a court in West Kowloon heard that the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund raised $34.4 million in donations. In addition to providing financial aid to protesters, the fund used some of the money for “political activities and non-charity events,” such as donations to protest groups, AFP reported.
The defense argued that this was irrelevant to the charge as to whether the humanitarian fund had registered correctly. The defendants’ lawyers previously said they had the right to associate under Hong Kong’s constitution.