A 90-year-old Hong Kong cardinal will go on trial alongside four fellow democracy supporters on Monday over their role in running a fund to help defend people arrested in anti-government protests.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia’s highest-ranking Catholic clerics, was originally detained earlier this year under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to quell dissent.
Police have not yet charged Zen with a national security offence, which can carry up to life in jail.
If convicted they face a fine of up to HK$10,000 (US$1,274) but no jail time. All have pleaded not guilty.
Zen had a walking stick and used his phone to scan a digital healthcode app that Hong Kong has used to grant access to public venues during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pope Francis declined to comment on Zen’s arrest asked about it earlier this month but said he was determined to continue pursuing a dialogue with Beijing.
Zen was hugely critical, calling the deal a “sellout” of China’s underground Catholics who have faced persecution for remaining loyal to Rome and refusing to recognize the Communist Party sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association.
One of the most senior Catholic clerics to criticize the Vatican’s response to Zen’s arrest is German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller.
“This cardinal will be sacrificed on the altar of reason, to defend and implement the diplomatic agreement with Beijing. I foresee this risk and I feel pain,” he added.
China responded to those protests with a sweeping crackdown on dissent.
Some groups have been prosecuted for funding and registration irregularities, even though several had functioned without incident for years, including the alliance that used to organize the city’s annual Tiananmen crackdown vigils.
Critics contend a form of “lawfare” has been launched to silence critical groups and bog them down in expensive legal fights.
The fund disbanded after the national security police demanded it hand over operational details including information about its donors and beneficiaries.
Originally published as Hong Kong cardinal among activists on trial over protest fund