(Religion Unplugged) — Cardinal Joseph Zen, a humanitarian and the outspoken critic of China’s Communist Party, was found guilty on charges relating to his role in a relief fund used by members of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement.
The 90-year-old Zen and five others were found guilty on Friday for failing to register the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund” used to pay protesters’ llegal and medical fees.
Despite being arrested last May by authorities in Hong Kong, Zen and the others have denied any affiliation with the fund.
Zen — alongside singer Denise Ho, scholar Hui Po Keung and former pro-democracy lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho — were fined $500. None of them face jail time as a result of the verdict.
Principal Magistrate Ada Yim ruled that the fund is considered an organization that is obliged to register as it was not only used for charitable purposes.
The protests in 2019 were sparked by a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. Critics worried that those arrested would not receive fair treatment and could be tortured by the Communist country’s regime.
Hong Kong police said at the time of Zen’s arrest on orders from the Chinese Communist Party that he had been involved with “collusion with foreign forces” for his role with the fund, which aided protesters starting in 2019.
Zen and his co-defendants had remained free on bail throughout the trial.
The arrests sparked concerns over potential wider crackdowns by the CCP against religious and pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong. Zen is the latest in a series of well-known Catholics to be arrested in Hong Kong, including newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai.
Zen has been a thorn in the side of the CCP for years. In 2018, the cardinal sent an appeal to Pope Francis, urging him to leave politics out of the selection of Catholic bishops in China.
The Vatican ultimately renewed its deal with the Chinese government for another two years — ending a power struggle despite concerns from Zen and others that it would be a sellout to underground Catholics in the country.
The deal, deemed controversial by many in the church, called for officials in Beijing to formally recognize the pope’s authority within the church. The pontiff, in response, recognized the legitimacy of bishops previously appointed by the CCP.
Clemente Lisi is a senior editor at Religion Unplugged and teaches journalism at The King’s College in New York City. He is the author of “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.” Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.