Cardinal Zen trial adjourned by Hong Kong court

cardinal zen trial adjourned

A court in Hong Kong has adjourned the trial of outspoken Catholic activist Cardinal Joseph Zen and four co-defendants until October 26.

Retired Catholic bishop and Cardinal Joseph Zen and five co-defendants pleaded not guilty at the West Kowloon Magistrates Court to failing to properly register their 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which offered financial, legal and psychological help to people arrested during the 2019 protest movement.

The West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court adjourned the trial after defence attorneys for Zen and his co-defendants, former pro-democracy lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po-keung, jailed former lawmaker Cyd Ho, Cantopop star Denise Ho and former fund secretary Sze Shing-wee tried to counter police witnesses called by the prosecution.

The prosecution was allowed to fully make its case that the defendants should have registered the fund within one month of starting the operation, but when the defence came to cross-examine them, their questions were overruled as irrelevant.

The trial was adjourned before the defence could call witnesses or make its case after judge Ada Yim ruled that their testimony was already well-established. The trial had been scheduled to run for five days.

Zen and the other defendants were arrested in May under a draconian national security law for “colluding with foreign forces” but have yet to be indicted on that charge.

Vatican silent

On Monday, the first day of the trial, the prosecution said the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund had raised a total of US$34.4 million and used part of the fund for “political activities and non-charity events” such as donations to protest groups.

The defence argued that the defendants had a right to form an association under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

The Vatican has remained mostly silent on Zen’s trial apart from issuing a statement after the cardinal’s arrest in May expressing “concern” and that it was “following the development of the situation with extreme attention,” the Catholic News Agency reported.

The cardinal’s trial comes as the Holy See and Beijing are determining the terms of the renewal of an agreement on the appointment of bishops in China, it said.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in an Italian television interview on 2 September that a delegation of Vatican diplomats has returned from China and that he believes the agreement will be renewed by the end of the year.

Zen has been an outspoken critic of the 2018 deal, calling it “an incredible betrayal”.

‘Man of God’

Pope Francis said on 15 September that the Vatican has “chosen the path of dialogue” with China.

However Cardinal Fernando Filoni, an expert in Chinese affairs, said in a recent article in the bishops’ newspaper Avvenire that Zen “is a man of God; at times intemperate, but submissive to the love of Christ.

“He is an authentic Chinese. No one among those I have known can, I say, be truly as loyal as he is,” Filoni wrote.

Zen travelled to Rome last year in a bid to discuss who will be the next Bishop of Hong Kong, but was denied an audience with the Pope and returned home empty-handed, he told the National Catholic Register at the time.

As well as criticising the Vatican’s deal with Beijing, Zen has said he fears that appointing a bishop for Hong Kong who is totally obedient to the CCP would effectively collapse any distinction between the Catholic church in mainland China and that in Hong Kong.

He said such a collapse had been made likely by the imposition by Beijing of the national security law on Hong Kong with effect from 1 July 2020, and that the Vatican had “taken leave” of the church’s principles in signing the deal.

“Everyone in the Chinese Catholic church is now a yes-man for the Chinese government and the underground church has been eliminated,” Zen told RFA in October 2021. He has said he will refuse to be interred alongside CCP-appointed clergy in a Hong Kong cathedral.

  • Lee Yuk Yue and Hoi Man Wu.
  • Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036. Copyright © 1998-2020.
  • Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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