Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was arrested earlier in 2022 by the Chinese Communist Party on charges of colluding with foreign forces by failing to register his pro-democracy bail fund with the government, began his formal trial in Hong Kong.
Zen, 90, the former archbishop of the formerly British colony, was arrested alongside four other pro-democracy activists in May for allegedly colluding with foreign interests in violation of China’s national security law, which the CCP imposed on the country.
Tens of thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets in 2019 to protest the measure, which curbs non-state sanctioned political activity and allows for extradition to mainland China.
According to Crux, the five were charged with not registering a now-defunct charity used to bail out protesters and pay the legal fees of those who participated in the largely non-violent protests.
Others who were charged alongside Zen include Barrister Margaret Ng, singer Denise Ho, academic Hui Po-Keung, and former state legislator Cyd Ho and protest leader She Ching-Wee, who was the fund’s secretary general before it was forcibly shut down by the Chinese government in October 2021. All five, including the cardinal, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Zen has been out on bail since May.
“I want to stress that Hong Kong is a society with rule of law where no organization or individual is above the law and all offenses shall be prosecuted in accordance with law,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at the time the charges were laid against the five. “We firmly oppose any act that denigrates rule of law in Hong Kong and interferes in its affairs.”
Cardinal Zen has pleaded to the Vatican to act against the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of religious minorities and opposition figures in the country, but his pleas have gone largely unheard, Fox News reported.
Zen's repeated warnings to the Vatican regarding the CCP's increased crackdowns on religious minorities and public figures who resist the government have historically been met with little response, prompting the cardinal to blame Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin for keeping church leaders in the dark on such issues.
Zen has also criticized Pope Francis, whose South American background he has blamed for the Holy See's relaxed diplomacy with China, saying that the pope is not familiar with “communists in power.”
“I try to explain, remembering that Pope Francis comes from South America, where the communists are the good guys defending the poor from the oppression of military regimes in collusion with the rich, so he may have sympathy for them,” Zen stated in 2020. “He doesn’t have direct experience of communists in power, oppressors of peoples.”