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Arrested Catholic cardinal denies charges amid Hong Kong’s crackdown on dissent

Group of defendants arriving at courthouse in Hong Kong
From right, singer Denise Ho, scholar Hui Po-keung, Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen and barrister Margaret Ng arrive at a Hong Kong courthouse.
(Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

The former head of Hong Kong’s Roman Catholics, Cardinal Joseph Zen, and five others Tuesday denied charges that they failed to register a relief fund to help antigovernment protesters who faced legal costs during the city’s unrest in 2019.

The six, who also include singer Denise Ho and former opposition lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho, were first arrested two weeks ago on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces but were not charged.

They appeared at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon court Tuesday.

Zen and the five others were trustees of the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was set up in 2019 to assist protesters who required financial assistance with legal or medical costs. They were charged with failing to register the fund with the police — an offense that could incur a fine of up to 10,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,275).

The trial will begin Sept. 19 and will take place over five days.

Cardinal Zen’s arrest was condemned internationally, with the Vatican saying that it was monitoring developments.

For Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, 2021 saw the city’s authorities and the Beijing government stamp out nearly everything it had stood for.

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The charges against the six come amid Hong Kong’s sustained crackdown on political dissent.

The police launched an investigation into the fund on national security grounds in September 2021. A month later, the fund said it would stop operating, citing the city’s deteriorating political environment.

Scores of pro-democracy activists have been arrested under a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020 after the demonstrations, including veteran lawmaker Martin Lee and publisher Jimmy Lai. The statute outlaws subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, and has since been used to arrest more than 150 people in the city.

Pro-democracy news outlets such as Apple Daily and Stand News have been forced to shutter following national security investigations. Electoral laws have also been amended to ensure that only pro-Beijing “patriots” are allowed to govern the city, effectively preventing pro-democracy supporters from taking office.


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