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

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 around 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, may 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 skin world.

“It meant lots to me,” Chow, who was later launched on bail forward of the attraction he finally received, advised Al Jazeera. “I may 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 standard 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 dealing with trial in relation to the 2019 protests.

They had been arrested in early Could underneath the Nationwide Safety Legislation and accused of “colluding with international forces”.

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

From left, Hong Kong scholar Hui Po-keung, Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, barrister Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho arrive for an appearance at a court in Hong Kong
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 Could [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 regulation in June 2020.

“The Chinese language authorities needs to chop off all types of organizing and solidarity that run outdoors 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 risk to the ruling authorities.”

Vatican criticised

Zen was ordained in 1996 and named Bishop of Hong Kong in 2002, changing 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, lots in remembrance of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Sq. and visited the Occupy Hong Kong website to supply ethical help to the hundreds who had gathered there.

After his retirement in 2009, Zen turned extra essential 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 essential of a 2018 deal underneath which Pope Francis recognised seven bishops appointed by Beijing, which was presupposed to deliver the mainland’s Catholics, thought to quantity about 12 million, collectively.

“Cardinal Zen made the final word self-sacrifice,” Andreas Fulda, creator of The Battle for Democracy in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, advised 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 Could 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 will “carefully monitor” occasions.

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

On Thursday, when the pope was requested about spiritual 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 house from the Congress of Leaders of World and Conventional Religions in Kazakhstan, added that he most well-liked to “select the trail of dialogue”.

Reviews 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.

‘Objective of life’

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

The group arrange the 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund in July 2019, naming it after the primary severe confrontation between protesters and police the earlier month outdoors the barricaded constructing of the Legislative Council the place politicians had been as a consequence of debate the contentious invoice. Police used rubber-coated bullets and tear fuel in opposition to protesters, and dozens had been arrested.

They wound up the fund in October final 12 months after police introduced that it was underneath investigation.

The fund’s closure, and the trial of those that based it, may also have repercussions for the hundreds dealing with expenses from the 2019 protests whose authorized prices may run into the tons of of hundreds of Hong Kong {dollars}.

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

“It was potential earlier than to crowdsource a few of these prices however by slicing off the power to take action, Beijing will make it way more troublesome for folks to afford the authorized sources 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, crammed 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 regulation wanted to be held to account.

For Chow, now residing 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 exhibits how the Hong Kong authorities has shifted its mentality [and] the longer term trajectory of the way it may method spiritual freedom or political speech; whether or not Hong Kong will stay a free society or whether or not that’s lengthy gone.”

What’s going on in Hong Kong’s courts? | Courts News

Hundreds of individuals in Hong Kong are dealing with court docket motion for participating in 2019’s mass protests, which grew out of opposition to a mainland extradition invoice into wider requires democracy.

Whereas some are well-known names from the town’s political opposition, many others are frequent residents who determined to hitch the months-long demonstrations.

Greater than 10,000 individuals have been arrested previously three years for his or her alleged involvement within the protests, authorities criticism and pro-democracy political actions, in response to Hong Kong authorities information. Of these dealing with costs, the overwhelming majority are individuals beneath the age of 30, though in addition they embody a number of the metropolis’s veteran opposition leaders.

On Friday, two youngsters had been sentenced to 5 and a half years in jail every for rioting, after being cleared of an earlier cost of manslaughter over the demise of a 70-year-old man who was hit within the head by a brick thrown in a confrontation between rival teams of protesters.

With the territory’s vibrant custom of civil disobedience, Hong Kong individuals weren’t unfamiliar with the danger of arrest, however infractions that had been as soon as thought-about minor offences are actually ending up in jail time.

Most of the metropolis’s pro-democracy politicians have been arrested underneath nationwide safety laws that was imposed by Beijing in 2020, and have been languishing in jail for months in pre-trial detention.

Based mostly on British frequent regulation, Hong Kong’s justice system was as soon as considered one of the vital unbiased and sturdy in Asia, however has been thrust into the highlight because the nationwide safety regulation was put in place.

Overseas judges have left the town, in addition to rank and file legal professionals, whereas US lawmakers might quickly sanction Hong Kong prosecutors for offences like “arbitrary detention of people for exercising universally recognised human rights”.

Chinese language “mainland-style felony justice” and “lawfare” ways have discovered their approach into Hong Kong, mentioned William Nee, analysis and advocacy coordinator at Chinese language Human Rights Defenders.

“The amount of instances is a part of it, and a part of it’s the prolonged authorized course of that folks face – and we’re solely two years into it,” he informed Al Jazeera. “We predict it might go on for a lot of, a few years the place individuals are unable to journey, unable to go away Hong Kong, unable to talk to the media, and unable to take part in public life,” he mentioned.

Who’re on trial and why

Greater than 1,000 trials are underneath approach and extra are as a consequence of begin in 2023, in response to information compiled by the Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), a US-based advocacy group.

Whereas there are other ways to depend the information, the advocacy group estimates that Hong Kong is now house to 432 “political prisoners” – individuals arrested for his or her political views or actions – who’ve accomplished sentences, with 582 individuals nonetheless in custody or awaiting trial.

Most of the arrests over the previous three years are linked to the 2019 protests, though not all.

Frequent costs associated to the protests embody taking part in an illegal meeting and rioting, whereas these accused of being “leaders” face costs like incitement and organising an illegal meeting. Greater than three-quarters of Hong Kong’s “political prisoners” are younger individuals beneath the age of 30, in response to the HKDC. Greater than half are beneath 25.

Beijing imposed the nationwide safety regulation in 2020.

The fallout has been felt among the many political opposition, civil society leaders, journalists, and “virtually all non-violent pro-democracy actions in Hong Kong”, in response to Eric Lai, a Hong Kong regulation fellow on the Georgetown Heart for Asian Legislation.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily, walks to a prison van to head to court.
Media mogul Jimmy Lai, the founding father of Apple Every day, has been in jail pending trial underneath the nationwide safety regulation because the finish of December 2020 after a decide revoked his bail [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Between July 2020 and June 2022, 203 individuals had been arrested underneath the regulation and 123 charged, in response to information compiled by Lai. Many defendants face further costs underneath Hong Kong’s atypical felony statutes.

Whereas the safety regulation particularly refers to crimes of subversion, sedition, “terrorism” and “collusion with international forces”, greater than 50 individuals have been arrested for “seditious” or “secessionist” speech underneath not too long ago revived sedition legal guidelines that date from the British colonial period.

To date solely 10 individuals have been convicted underneath the brand new regulation, however many instances have been delayed by Hong Kong’s strict COVID-19 insurance policies, in response to Lai.

Nationwide safety police have focused individuals like Jimmy Lai, the previous writer of Apple Every day and longtime critic of the Communist Social gathering, in addition to 47 activists and opposition leaders charged and arrested for organising an unofficial main election for the pro-democracy camp in 2019.

They’ve additionally arrested leaders of the protest umbrella group Hong Kong Alliance in Help of Patriotic Democratic Actions in China for failing to submit proof to police, whereas scholar teams have been charged with “terrorism”.

Sedition legal guidelines have shut down a lot of Hong Kong’s unbiased press as information retailers have folded after workers had been both charged or feared being charged underneath the sedition regulation.

A brand new class of criminals

The nationwide safety regulation has created a brand new felony process in Hong Kong that strays from its frequent regulation custom.

Nationwide safety defendants are heard earlier than a panel of three judges handpicked for phrases of 1 12 months by the town’s chief government, mentioned Nee, which suggests the justices can simply be eliminated.

Not like different felony instances, there is no such thing as a jury and defendants are virtually solely denied bail whereas authorized proceedings proceed – typically for months.

Defendants in these instances are tasked with proving they won’t “proceed to hazard nationwide safety” along with assembly atypical bail situations, in response to a Hong Kong defence lawyer and rule of regulation monitor who spoke on situation of anonymity.

Judges wearing robes and horsehair wigs attend a ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s judicial system is predicated on British frequent regulation and was as soon as considered one of the vital unbiased within the area [File: Philip Fong/AFP]

Among the most high-profile instances embody the 47 individuals who had been picked up over the first and have already spent greater than a 12 months in detention after the prosecutors appealed their preliminary proper to publish bail.

Bail hearings themselves have turn into a virtually not possible job as, underneath the brand new regulation, defendants have misplaced the presumption of innocence – a basic proper within the frequent regulation system.

Responsible till confirmed harmless

Circumstances heard within the atypical felony system, which generally concern rank and file protesters, have additionally modified dramatically over the previous three years.

The primary main change has been the place they’re heard.

The place instances of civil disobedience had been as soon as referred to the Justice of the Peace’s court docket – the bottom rung of the felony justice system – they’re now commonly despatched as much as the district court docket or Excessive Court docket, in response to the defence lawyer. Magistrates are restricted to two-year sentences, however the district and Excessive Court docket can impose phrases of so long as seven years and life imprisonment, respectively.

The defence lawyer mentioned in lots of instances, even rank and file protesters shifting by means of the atypical felony justice system have misplaced the presumption of innocence.

Typical instances concern costs like rioting, though many defendants weren’t caught within the act however as an alternative close by the scene or carrying tools like goggles or masks. Each gadgets had been utilized by protesters and journalists to guard themselves from tear gasoline and pepper spray, which turned an indicator of the protests within the late summer season of 2019 and was even fired at bystanders.

The lawyer mentioned they felt that in lots of instances protesters had misplaced the presumption of innocence as judges would problem contradictory verdicts relying on the case.

“In a system the place the identical info can result in completely different outcomes earlier than completely different judges, when judges constantly disregard defence testimony and select to depend on police testimony even when unbelievable – these aren’t honest trials, that’s not the rule of regulation,” the lawyer mentioned.

From left, Hong Kong scholar Hui Po-keung, Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, barrister Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho arrive for an appearance at a court in Hong Kong
Greater than 1,000 trials are presently underneath approach in Hong Kong on account of 2019’s protests and the imposition of the nationwide safety regulation. These dealing with costs vary from frequent residents to a few of Hong Kong’s most well-known faces together with scholar Hui Po-keung (left), Cardinal Joseph Zen, barrister Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho (proper) [File: Kin Cheung/AP Photo]
A person standing outside a court in Hong Kong carries a poster showing the 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists arrested for organising a primary to choose their own candidates for an election that was then postponed
The case of the 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists arrested for organising their very own main to decide on their candidates for the Legislative Council election that was then postponed, is among the most high-profile instances presently within the Hong Kong courts [File: Kin Cheung/AP Photo]

Sluggish wheels of justice

Prison procedures have additionally taken longer, partly as a consequence of COVID-19, mentioned Samuel Bickett, a lawyer and Hong Kong regulation fellow on the Georgetown College Legislation Centre who served 4 and a half months in jail for a 2019 altercation with an off-duty Hong Kong police officer.

Whereas Hong Kong regulation doesn’t assure the appropriate to a speedy trial, critics say the delays are disproportionate to the crime.

“The typical time from arrest to sentencing by means of mid-2021 is 380 days, that’s terribly lengthy. I imply we’re not speaking a couple of homicide case right here. That is greater than a 12 months to get by means of an illegal meeting case or principally quite simple instances,” Bickett informed Al Jazeera primarily based on information he’s compiling for an upcoming Georgetown Legislation report.

Bickett’s felony case took a 12 months and a half from begin to end, he mentioned.

Bail has additionally turn into harder to safe even for these charged for offences that don’t contain the safety regulation, and can also include onerous situations comparable to curfews, or guidelines associated to high school for younger defendants.

Longer and harsher sentencing

Sentencing has additionally turn into harsher no matter age or previous felony report, mentioned Steven Vines, a veteran Hong Kong journalist who left the town in 2021. Public order instances that after might need resulted in fines or neighborhood service now appeal to jail time.

HKDC information discovered that of practically 3,000 individuals prosecuted, 67 % had been convicted, receiving a mean jail sentence of 1.6 years. Sentences for suspected protest “leaders” and folks charged underneath the nationwide safety regulation are even longer, and lots of face a number of costs.

“Individuals with no felony convictions by any means are being given custodial sentences for issues like illegal meeting, which previously would’ve incurred a advantageous, nothing extra. People who find themselves being convicted of extra critical offences are getting sentences that are akin to armed robbers with a felony report,” Vines informed Al Jazeera.

Georgetown’s Lai, nonetheless, says this isn’t solely surprising.

Hong Kong has lengthy used public order legal guidelines in opposition to protesters, even earlier than the 1997 handover to China.

However in recent times, Hong Kong’s courts have indicated that they might come down tougher on non-violent protesters amid prolonged instances surrounding the protest leaders of 2014’s Umbrella Motion. One other case across the similar indicated that rioting offences would even be met with harsher phrases.

John Lee (on left) stands om a stage with Chinese president Xi Jinping
John Lee (left), with China’s President Xi Jinping, has made safety his precedence and is planning a Hong Kong model of Beijing’s safety regulation [File: Selim Chtayti/Reuters]

Hong Kong’s authorities has mentioned the prosecutions and nationwide safety regulation are vital to revive order after 2019’s protracted protests introduced the territory to a standstill.

Town’s new chief government John Lee, a former police officer who was safety chief through the protests, plans to enact an area model of Beijing’s safety regulation. Hong Kong can also quickly see further legal guidelines governing on-line information and web posts, just like legal guidelines handed by Singapore.

For now, prosecutions of 2019 protesters are anticipated to proceed over the following two years as a result of prolonged backlog – the nationwide safety instances might take even longer as a result of quantity of proof compiled by prosecutors and successive delays. Within the meantime, a lot of Hong Kong’s opposition and civil society will stay silenced, exiled or in jail.

China’s President Xi to visit Hong Kong for anniversary | Xi Jinping News

Xi will attend a number of occasions together with the inauguration of Hong Kong’s subsequent chief on Friday, deputy police chief has stated.

Hong Kong police have confirmed that Chinese language President Xi Jinping will go to the town this week for the twenty fifth anniversary of the previous British colony’s return to Chinese language rule.

Xi will attend a number of official occasions together with the inauguration of Hong Kong’s subsequent chief, former safety chief John Lee, on Friday, Assistant Police Commissioner Lui Kam-ho stated at a information convention on Tuesday.

The Chinese language chief’s go to shall be his first journey exterior mainland China for the reason that coronavirus pandemic took maintain about two and half years in the past.

The go to comes as Hong Kong is dealing with a brand new spike in infections following what was by far its worst and deadliest COVID-19 outbreak earlier this 12 months.

The UK returned Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997. The anniversary is very symbolic for Xi, who needs to be seen as propelling a “nationwide rejuvenation” as he prepares to begin an anticipated third five-year time period as head of China’s ruling Communist Occasion later this 12 months.

A part of that rejuvenation is erasing the legacy of colonialism and what the celebration regards as unequal treaties that granted territorial concessions to Britain and different international nations in the course of the waning years of the Qing Dynasty, which led to 1911.

Friday may also mark the midway level of the so-called “one nation, two programs” framework which was purported to safeguard Hong Kong’s freedoms and lifestyle for a minimum of 50 years.

In July 2017, Xi attended the swearing-in of Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam as a part of a three-day journey, which additionally included a go to to the native Chinese language military barracks.

However the protests that accompanied that journey are unlikely to be repeated this 12 months, as a result of a Beijing-imposed nationwide safety regulation has successfully stifled any criticism or dissent.

A collection of safety measures shall be put in place to guard Xi, together with safety zones and street closures across the venue for the ceremony, police stated.

Limitations have already been erected within the space.

“We is not going to tolerate something that will intervene and undermine the safety operation,” Lui stated.

“Within the occasion that any particular person behaves in a fashion that threatens life or property and undermines public order or endangers public security, we are going to take resolute motion,” Lui added.

Hong Kong GDP falls more than expected as COVID curbs bite | Business and Economy

Financial system shrinks 4 p.c within the January-to-March interval from a 12 months earlier, in line with advance estimates.

Hong Kong’s financial system contracted final quarter for the primary time in additional than a 12 months as native restrictions to curb Covid hit exercise and China’s personal omicron outbreak disrupted commerce.

Gross home product fell 4% within the January-to-March interval from a 12 months earlier, in line with advance estimates launched by the federal government on Tuesday. The quantity — Hong Kong’s first because the finish of 2020 — was far worse than a median estimate of a 1.3% contraction in a Bloomberg survey. It was additionally the most important contraction because the third quarter of 2020.

Town confronted “immense strain” within the first quarter of 2022, a authorities spokesperson was quoted as saying in a launch from the Census and Statistics Division accompanying the info. Town’s fifth coronavirus wave, together with moderating international demand development and “epidemic-induced cross boundary transportation disruptions,” all dragged on the financial system, the particular person mentioned.

Forward of the info, there have been indicators of deep financial harm within the first three months of the 12 months, with retail gross sales collapsing greater than 14% in February and exports plunging 8.9% in March. Town imposed strict social restrictions throughout the quarter — together with a ban on dining-in after 6 p.m. and shutting gyms and wonder salons — to battle a coronavirus wave that killed hundreds and contaminated greater than 1 million folks.

“This reveals how personal consumption, retail gross sales and the pandemic in China have hit development,” mentioned Samuel Tse, an economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd in Hong Kong. Tse had forecast a 1.2% contraction due to a low base of comparability with the primary quarter of final 12 months.

The Asian finance hub is now slowly beginning to reopen, which means the first-quarter hunch might mark the low level within the development cycle. On Tuesday, the federal government accelerated reopening plans, and can on Thursday enable eight folks to eat collectively, up from 4 beforehand, together with different easing measures. Two weeks later, dining-in hours can be prolonged from 10 p.m. till midnight, Chief Government Carrie Lam mentioned at a briefing.

Nonetheless, a lot will rely on China’s personal outbreak and Covid controls, which have made it tough to move items to and from the mainland. Exports from Hong Kong to China dropped 12.8% in March from a 12 months in the past, in line with official figures.

Commerce disruptions from China and weak exterior demand might linger for at the very least the subsequent month, Tse mentioned, including that he expects one other contraction within the second quarter.