Monsignor Zen, one of the highest dignitaries of the Catholic Church in Asia, was arrested in early May along with four other leading figures of the pro-democracy movement, including singer Denise Ho and lawyer Margaret Ng in the name of the law on national security.
These personalities were the administrators of a fund, now dissolved, offering to finance part of the legal and medical costs of those arrested during the major pro-democracy demonstrations of 2019.
They were arrested for “conspiracy to collusion with foreign forces”, a charge that carries life in prison under the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.
But the court has so far only accepted the accusation of failure to register the fund with the police, which does not stem from the national security law and incurs a fine of 10,000 Hong Kong dollars ( 1,190 euros) for a first conviction.
All defendants pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. The trial will begin on September 19.
The prosecutor’s office assured that it had 10 cases of exhibits and eight hours of video recordings to support the charges.
The investigation against the ‘612 Humanitarian Relief Fund’ was launched after one of the trustees, academic Hui Po-keung, was arrested at the airport as he was about to take up a post at a university. European.
Cardinal Zen’s arrest has sparked outrage in many Western countries, which accuse China of ending the freedoms once promised to Hong Kong. Diplomats from several European countries, including Germany, France, Sweden and Italy, attended the hearing on Tuesday.
The city’s Minister of Security, Chris Tang, brushed off the criticism Monday in the local press, calling it a “classic smear campaign”.
– Masses –
Vicar General of Hong Kong Joseph Chan attended the hearing on Tuesday, but said he was not representing the diocese there.
Cardinal Zen “was my teacher, so I came,” he told AFP.
Mr. Chan said he was mainly concerned about the health of Bishop Zen, even though he appeared to be in good spirits.
The cardinal planned to celebrate a mass “for China” on Tuesday evening.
In another case, leading academic and pro-democracy activist Benny Tai was sentenced to 10 months in prison for campaigning in the media during the 2016 local legislative elections.
Mr. Tai pleaded guilty to violating Hong Kong’s election law, which limits the ability to publish election advertisements.
The academic was not a candidate but promoted a way to coordinate votes so that the pro-democracy camp won more seats, Judge Anthony Kwok said.
“(Mr. Tai’s) action may have undermined the fairness of the election and disadvantaged pro-establishment candidates and others,” he added.
Judge says deterrent sentence needed given seriousness of Tai’s actions, though admits activist did not act for personal gain and did not promote candidates specific.
Benny Tai, a former law professor, is already in jail after being arrested along with 46 other pro-Democrats for subversion under the National Security Act.