Retired bishop and other democracy advocates insist their organization was humanitarian, not political.
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Cardinal Joseph Zen and four other Hong Kong democracy advocates have appealed a ruling of a local court that ordered them to pay a HK$4,000 fine.
The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and the others were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, an organization that came to the aid of protesters opposed to Beijing. Magistrate Ada Yim on November 25 found them guilty of violating Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance, as they had failed to register the charitable organization or apply for an exemption within a month of its establishment.
Hong Kong Free Press reported the appeal, which was filed with Hong Kong’s High Court on Monday. Magistrate Yim ruled that the aims pursued by the 612 Fund were political, as all the members were opposed to Beijing’s policy in the former British territory. But the appellants insist that their association pursued only humanitarian goals, not political ones, thus exempting them from registering with the authorities.
“The magistrate said that the trust was not considered exempt from the ordinance as it was not a trust of public nature solely established for charity purposes,” Hong Kong Free Press said. “Instead, Yim said that the agreement signed by the five trustees carried ‘political aims.’ In addition, she ruled that the members of the fund shared mutual rights and obligations, and that the group had engaged the public and had connections with political groups.”
The fund, which folded in August last year, provided financial support for those arrested or injured during protests and unrest in 2019, said Hong Kong Free Press.
On May 12, Cardinal Zen was briefly arrested for collusion with foreign powers along with five other members. This charge – which can lead to heavy sentences – has not yet been upheld by the courts.
Cardinal Zen told CNN November 25 that he was careful to insist that he was intervening in this trial as a private citizen of Hong Kong. “It’s not related to religious freedom; [it] hasn’t been damaged here,” he said.
The 90-year-old bishop, who retired in 2009, has been outspoken against the Chinese communist regime, which he accuses of persecuting believers in China but not in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, where religions are protected by the Constitution.
Also appealing the magistrate’s ruling are barrister Margaret Ng, ex-lawmaker Cyd Ho, scholar Hui Po-keung and singer-activist Denise Ho. The fund’s former secretary, Sze Ching-wee, was also found guilty and was fined HK$2,500. Sze has not appealed against his conviction.