Lawyers defending Cardinal Joseph Zen and five other Hong Kong democracy activists took the floor Monday in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, the same courthouse where a Protestant pastor was sentenced to one year in jail for sedition last week.
In the third court date this month, Zen’s defense argued before Principal Magistrate Ada Yim Shun-yee on Oct. 31 that the charges against the trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund should be dismissed.
The 90-year-old cardinal and the fund’s other trustees have been charged with failing to apply for local society registration for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund between 2019 and 2021. The fund helped pro-democracy protesters pay their legal fees until it dissolved itself in October 2021.
Hong Kong’s 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.
According to the defense, the trustees did not have reciprocal rights and responsibilities and therefore did not set up a society as defined by the ordinance, Asia News reported.
The prosecution argued last week that the 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. Zen and the other democracy activists could face a $1,200 (HK$10,000) fine for violating the ordinance.
The retired bishop of Hong Kong 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.
Last week, a Protestant pastor was convicted of sedition in the West Kowloon court for having criticized a judge for losing her “conscience” and clapping during a trial earlier this year over a vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Reverend Garry Pang Moon-yuen was sentenced to one year in prison on Oct. 27. The 59-year-old pastor said: “I may have lost the case on paper, but in terms of defending conscience and justice, and in terms of safeguarding the rule of law, I am victorious.”