There is enough evidence for Cardinal Joseph Zen, the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, and several other defendants to stand trial, a Hong Kong magistrate ruled Tuesday.
Principal Magistrate Ada Yim Shun-yee issued her decision on the second day of a preliminary hearing. Cardinal Zen, 90, and five well-known pro-democracy advocates appeared before a West Kowloon Court on Monday and Tuesday.
They are being charged under the Societies Ordinance, a century-old colonial-era law, for failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, of which they were trustees. The fund was set up in June 2019 to help pay for the legal and medical fees of pro-democracy protesters that year.
The defendants pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys say the charity was not required to register under the Societies Ordinance. They object to the evidence gathered under a draconian national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 to target pro-democracy movements, deeming it irrelevant to the case, AsiaNews reported.
“The defense wants the ordinance to be interpreted in light of the right of association enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which will speak volumes about the degree of freedom still existing in the former British colony,” AsiaNews said. Hong Kong’s Basic Law is the “mini constitution” the territory adopted when Great Britain handed it over to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.
On Tuesday, five prosecution witnesses, including four police officers, were called to testify. The lawyer representing Cardinal Zen asked a senior police inspector whether the funeral committee for two prominent Hong Kongers were registered societies, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
Magistrate Yim said that some groups, such as funeral committees, are exempt from registration.
“If anyone died in the family and there had to be a funeral committee, they [were gathered] not because of an aim, but to complete something,” Yim said. She asked the defendants and the prosecution to file submissions on how a society should be defined under the ordinance, and stressed that the matter had to be “dealt with [using] common sense.”
The defendants will not testify in court, nor will their legal team call any witnesses. However, the defense said that it would submit a number of legal arguments to the court, including on the interpretation of the Societies Ordinance, the Free Press said.