Cardinal Joseph Zen, at a previous appearance at the West Kowloon Court Buildings in Hong Kong, China, in 2021. On Tuesday, he and five others denied allegations that they failed to register a fund to assist protestors with legal and medical costs following a demonstration against the government in 2019. File Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
May 24 (UPI) -- Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and five other people denied charges in court on Tuesday that they failed to register a relief fund that was assisting protestors who faced legal and medical fees following their participation in anti-government protests in 2019.
The six defendants, who were trustees of the Humanitarian Relief Fund, appeared in West Kowloon Court, where their attorney said they would dispute allegations that the organization was not registered with the police. The fund is no longer operating.
The case is expected to go to trial on Sept. 19 and could last five days.
The arrest of the 90-year-old Zen by the national security police nearly two weeks ago on allegations that the group "colluded with foreign powers" sparked condemnation around the world.
The Vatican on May 11 expressed concern over the arrest and said in a statement that it was "following the development of the situation with extreme attention."
Human Rights Watch said that Hong Kong police should drop "their baseless criminal investigations" against the group.
"Hong Kong authorities haven't just put Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng, and others under arrest -- they have put Hong Kong's fundamental freedoms under arrest," said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch in a post on the organization's website from May 13. "Arresting a 90-year-old cardinal for his peaceful activities has to be a shocking new low for Hong Kong's police, the latest example of the city's human rights freefall in the past two years."
Human Rights Watch added that "since the Chinese government imposed the National Security Law on June 30, 2020, the Hong Kong authorities have waged an intensifying crackdown on the city, erasing basic civil and political rights long protected in Hong Kong."