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Why is 90-year-old Cardinal Zen standing trial in Hong Kong? | Information

Political activist Alex Chow has not forgotten the kindness of Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, who came visiting him when he was behind bars 5 years in the past.

Cardinal Zen has lengthy been recognized for his work as a jail chaplain. On the day Chow met him on the Pik Uk correctional centre, a most safety jail in Hong Kong’s New Territories, the aged priest had taken a public minibus to the jail, some 40 minutes journey into the hills from the densely-packed metropolis.

The 2 talked for 45 minutes, “possibly an hour”, with the jail officer giving up his seat so Zen, then in his mid-80s, might sit down.  For Chow, jailed for his function within the peaceable 2014 Occupy Hong Kong protests, the cardinal was a supply of consolation and reassurance and a much-needed connection to the surface world.

“It meant loads to me,” Chow, who was later launched on bail forward of the attraction he finally received, informed Al Jazeera. “I might see his real concern for others and staunch opposition to injustice. I felt like I used to be genuinely in his prayers and one of many folks he cared about.”

The 90-year-old former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong now faces a trial of his personal.

On Monday he’ll face court docket with 5 others, together with popular Cantopop singer and LGBTQ activist Denise Ho, and lawyer Margaret Ng over a now-defunct fund that they set as much as assist pay the authorized charges of individuals going through trial in relation to the 2019 protests.

They had been arrested in early Might underneath the National Security Law and accused of “colluding with overseas forces”.

Launched on bail, they had been charged on Might 24 with failing to register the fund.

Cardinal Zen was leaning on a strolling stick for help as he arrived in court docket with fellow defendants – scholar Hui Po-keung, left, lawyer Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho – in Might [File: Kin Cheung/AP Photo]

All have pleaded not responsible and, within the 5 days allotted for proceedings, their defence is predicted to argue that the group had a proper to affiliate underneath Hong Kong’s Primary Legislation, the mini-constitution that has been in place for the reason that British handed the territory over to China in 1997.

Beijing imposed the safety legislation in June 2020.

“The Chinese language authorities desires to chop off all types of organizing and solidarity that run exterior of the Communist Occasion’s management in Hong Kong,” William Nee, analysis and advocacy coordinator at Chinese language Human Rights Defenders, mentioned in an emailed response to questions. “The truth that Cardinal Zen is compassionate, caring, and well-respected in Hong Kong truly makes him a menace to the ruling authorities.”

Vatican criticised

Zen was ordained in 1996 and named Bishop of Hong Kong in 2002, turning into the chief of the territory’s Catholics, now numbering greater than 400,000. In 2006, in a ceremony in Rome, he was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict.

All through his profession, Zen has proven help for democratic reform and giving the folks of Hong Kong extra say of their authorities. He held a “walkathon” for common suffrage, plenty in remembrance of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square and visited the Occupy Hong Kong website to offer ethical help to the 1000’s who had gathered there.

After his retirement in 2009, Zen turned extra crucial of Beijing, which broke off relations with the Vatican in 1951 and created its personal Communist Occasion-led Chinese language Patriotic Catholic Affiliation. He has been particularly crucial of a 2018 deal underneath which Pope Francis recognised seven bishops appointed by Beijing, which was purported to convey the mainland’s Catholics, thought to quantity about 12 million, collectively.

“Cardinal Zen made the last word self-sacrifice,” Andreas Fulda, creator of The Battle for Democracy in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, informed Al Jazeera in emailed feedback. “Deep down he will need to have recognized that the dictatorship in Beijing would by no means budge. Undeterred he advocated for Christians in mainland China. Firmly dedicated to the precept of non-violence he was a part of an influential ecumenical alliance of religion leaders advocating for liberal democracy in Hong Kong.”

Pope Benedict XVI (L) gives the ring to new cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun during a Holy Mass in St. Peter Square, Saturday 25 March 2006 i
Zen turned the pinnacle of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong in 2002 and was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict in March 2006 [File: Ettore Ferrari/EPA]

The Catholic Church has been criticised for failing to take a firmer stand over Zen’s arrest and trial.

After he was charged on Might 24, pictured strolling into court docket leaning closely on a stick, the church launched a brief assertion noting that he had pleaded not responsible and that it might “carefully monitor” occasions.

“Cardinal Zen is at all times in our prayers and we invite all to hope for the Church,” it concluded.

On Thursday, when the pope was requested about non secular freedom in China and Zen’s looming trial, he mentioned that whereas it was “not simple to know the Chinese language mentality”, it needed to be “revered”, in accordance with a report in Catholic Information.

On Zen, he mentioned: “He says what he feels and we see that there are limitations [in Hong Kong]”.

The pope, who spoke as he flew dwelling from the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan, added that he most popular to “select the trail of dialogue”.

Studies mentioned China’s President Xi Jinping, who was additionally on the assembly, refused an invite for talks with the pope as a result of his schedule was full.

‘Function of life’

Zen’s trial is the newest in reference to the 2019 protests, which started with mass marches towards a proposed bill that would allow extradition to the mainland and, amid a perceived lack of motion from the federal government and heavy-handed police ways, developed into typically violent calls for for extra democracy within the Chinese language-ruled territory.

The group arrange the 612 Humanitarian Reduction Fund in July 2019, naming it after the primary critical confrontation between protesters and police the earlier month exterior the barricaded constructing of the Legislative Council the place politicians had been attributable to debate the contentious invoice. Police used rubber-coated bullets and tear gasoline towards protesters, and dozens had been arrested.

They wound up the fund in October final yr after police introduced that it was underneath investigation.

The fund’s closure, and the trial of those that based it, can even have repercussions for the thousands facing charges from the 2019 protests whose authorized prices might run into the tons of of 1000’s of Hong Kong {dollars}.

CHRD’s Nee mentioned the shortage of funding choices might undermine these defendants’ proper to a good trial.

“It was potential earlier than to crowdsource a few of these prices however by reducing off the power to take action, Beijing will make it far more tough for folks to afford the authorized assets to mount a strong defence,” he famous.

Zen has been out on bail pending trial.

At his first public look after his arrest, he addressed the Salesian Vocations Workplace (China Province) about his motivations in life and why he had entered the priesthood.

He famous that the world was “chaotic” and that some had been pushed by the necessity to pursue “cash, wealth, and energy” however he believed life meant studying what it means to be an individual of integrity, stuffed with a way of justice and kindness.

“That is the aim of life,” the retired bishop mentioned.

Regardless of his longstanding help for democratic reform, Zen had largely averted any backlash from the authorities.

After the bishop’s arrest, newly-installed Hong Kong chief John Lee, a former police officer and safety chief, mentioned the arrest was not associated to Zen’s background or beliefs, however that individuals who broke the legislation wanted to be held to account.

For Chow, now dwelling in america, the choice to arrest and prosecute a person many in Hong Kong regard because the territory’s “ethical conscience” is additional proof of how a lot the territory has modified.

“Him being prosecuted is telling,” he mentioned. “It actually reveals how the Hong Kong authorities has shifted its mentality [and] the longer term trajectory of the way it may strategy non secular freedom or political speech; whether or not Hong Kong will stay a free society or whether or not that’s lengthy gone.”

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