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In a ruling Friday on a case that is seen as a marker of political freedom, a court in Hong Kong found Cardinal Joseph Zen, and 5 others guilty of failing to register the now defunct "612 Humanitarian Relief Fund" that was used in part to pay the legal and medical fees of pro-democracy protestors.
Zen and 4 other trustees of the fund, scholar Hui Po Keung, singer Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, and politician Cyd Ho were each sentenced to pay fines of HK$4,000 ($510). The sixth defendant and secretary of the fund, Sze Ching-Wee, was fined HK$2,500 ($320).
All the defendants had initially been charged under the controversial national security law for colluding with foreign forces - a law that is supported by Beijing and carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Those charges were dropped and replaced with a less severe charge under the Societies Ordinance, which is an old colonial-era law that is punishable by fines up to HK$10,000 ($1,274) but does not allow for jail time for first-time offenders.
The fund, which raised $34.4 million through 100,000 deposits, provided financial assistance to protestors but was also used to sponsor pro-democracy rallies, including the 2019 street protests against Beijing.
The national security law which imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June 2020, after the 2019 pro-democracy protests, criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. While many are critical of the law saying that it limits freedom, the Hong Kong government denies those claims saying that it instead has brought order back to the city after the protests.
Zen has long been an advocate for democracy, human rights, and religious freedom as well as an outspoken critic of China's ruling Communist Party. After the ruling Zen said, "I saw many people overseas are concerned about a cardinal being arrested. It is not related to religious freedom. I am part of the fund. (Hong Kong) has not seen damage (to) its religious freedom."
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