ROME—A Hong Kong court has sentenced a retired 90-year-old man Cardinal Joseph Zen as part of an ongoing crackdown on dissidents.
Zen is caught under new national security law in May last year as he tried to board a flight to Germany with several other prominent activists, including pop singer Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng and scholar Hui Po-keung.
The cardinal was found guilty on Friday of failing to register a fund support pro-democracy protesters. He was fined about $500 but did not go to jail.
The case has attracted global attention as it is the first time evidence has been collected using China’s controversial national security law created to crack down on dissidents. democracy.
The pro-democracy fund, now dissolved, was used to pay for legal assistance to the thousands of protesters who were arrested during weekly rallies in 2019. Violent protests have united made headlines before the COVID pandemic put an end to public gatherings. Prosecutors said the fund raised about $34.4 million through 100,000 deposits that they allege were linked to foreign entities and, therefore, illegal.
Pro-democracy protesters march against China’s imposition of a national security law, which they say is a way to prosecute dissidents arrested in Hong Kong in China continent. The Hong Kong government says legislation that criminalizes subversion, terrorism, secession and collusion with foreign entities, has restored order to the city.
Zen, who is retired, attended the hearings in vestments with a cross around his neck and spoke to reporters outside the courthouse. “I see a lot of people abroad being concerned about a cardinal being arrested,” he said, according to CNN. “It has nothing to do with religious freedom. I am part of the fund. Hong Kong has seen no damage to its religious freedom.”
Cardinal Zen is a vocal opponent of an agreement signed by the Holy See with China on who decides which bishops to appoint. The practice of Catholicism is closely monitored in mainland China with a large number of Catholics secretly worshiping in underground churches not affiliated with government-mandated Catholic churches.
When Zen was arrested, the Vatican released a statement of concern for his safety. The press office said in a statement: “The Holy See has learned of the arrest of Cardinal Quan with concern and is monitoring the development of the situation very closely. The Vatican did not issue an immediate statement on the verdicts.