By Courtney Mares
The trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen resumed in Hong Kong on Wednesday, days after the Vatican announced the renewal of its agreement with Beijing.
Prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang took the floor on Oct. 26 in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, where Zen and five other pro-democracy activists have been charged for failing to apply for local society registration for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund between 2019 and 2021.
The prosecution argued that the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund needed to be registered with the police because of its “massive” size and “systematic” mode of operation, according to the South China Morning Post.
The fund helped pro-democracy protesters pay their legal fees until it dissolved itself in October 2021. Chau argued that the fund was political in nature and therefore did not qualify for the exemption in Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance for organizations set up “for religious, charitable, social, or recreational purposes.”
The defense will make its arguments before Principal Magistrate Ada Yim Shun-yee on Oct. 31.
According to the defense, the Societies Ordinance was unconstitutional, gave an ambiguous definition of a “society,” and had requirements that went beyond what was necessary to protect national security, Asia News reported.
The Societies Ordinance required any club, company, partnership, or association of persons to register with the police commissioner or ask for an exemption within one month of its establishment.
Zen and the other democracy activists could face a $1,200 (HK$10,000) fine for violating the ordinance.
The cardinal was arrested in May along with other democracy activists under Hong Kong’s strict national security law but now faces a less serious charge. He has been free on bail since early May.
All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Those accused with Zen are lawyer Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung, activist Sze Ching-wee, and ex-legislator Cyd Ho, who is already jailed for a different charge.
The 90-year-old and retired bishop of Hong Kong’s most recent court appearance took place four days after the Vatican announced its decision to renew for another two years its provisional agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops. Zen has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Vatican’s agreement with China since it was first signed in 2018.