Political activist Alex Chow has no longer forgotten the kindness of Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, who came over him when he used to be in the back of bars 5 years in the past.
Cardinal Zen has lengthy been recognized for his paintings as a jail chaplain. At the day Chow met him on the Pik United kingdom correctional centre, a most safety prison in Hong Kong’s New Territories, the aged priest had taken a public minibus to the jail, some 40 mins trip into the hills from the densely-packed town.
The 2 talked for 45 mins, “perhaps an hour”, with the jail officer giving up his seat so Zen, then in his mid-80s, may take a seat down. For Chow, jailed for his function within the non violent 2014 Occupy Hong Kong protests, the cardinal used to be a supply of convenience and reassurance and a much-needed connection to the outdoor global.
“It supposed so much to me,” Chow, who used to be later launched on bail forward of the enchantment he ultimately received, advised Al Jazeera. “I may see his authentic worry for others and staunch opposition to injustice. I felt like I used to be in truth in his prayers and some of the other folks he cared about.”
The 90-year-old former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong now faces a tribulation of his personal.
On Monday he’s going to face court docket with 5 others, together with widespread Cantopop singer and LGBTQ activist Denise Ho and attorney Margaret Ng, over a now-defunct fund they set as much as assist pay the felony charges of other folks going through trial with regards to the 2019 protests.
They had been arrested in early Would possibly underneath the Nationwide Safety Regulation and accused of “colluding with overseas forces”.
Launched on bail, they had been charged on Would possibly 24 with failing to sign in the fund.
All have pleaded no longer responsible and, within the 5 days allotted for lawsuits, their defence is predicted to argue that the gang had a proper to affiliate underneath Hong Kong’s Elementary Regulation, the mini-constitution that has been in position for the reason that British passed the territory over to China in 1997.
Beijing imposed the safety legislation in June 2020.
“The Chinese language executive desires to bring to a halt all sorts of organizing and team spirit that run outdoor of the Communist Birthday party’s keep an eye on in Hong Kong,” William Nee, analysis and advocacy coordinator at Chinese language Human Rights Defenders, stated in an emailed reaction to questions. “The truth that Cardinal Zen is compassionate, worrying, and well-respected in Hong Kong in fact makes him a risk to the ruling government.”
Zen used to be 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 a 2006 rite in Rome, he used to be made a cardinal by means of Pope Benedict.
During his profession, Zen has proven enhance for democratic reform and giving the folks of Hong Kong extra say of their executive. He held a “walkathon” for common suffrage, plenty in remembrance of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Sq. and visited the Occupy Hong Kong website to supply ethical enhance to the hundreds who had accrued there.
After his retirement in 2009, Zen become extra crucial of Beijing, which broke off members of the family with the Vatican in 1951 and created its personal Communist Birthday party-led Chinese language Patriotic Catholic Affiliation. He has been particularly crucial of a 2018 deal underneath which Pope Francis recognised seven bishops appointed by means of Beijing, which used to be meant to deliver the mainland’s Catholics, concept to quantity about 12 million, in combination.
“Cardinal Zen made without equal self-sacrifice,” Andreas Fulda, writer of The Fight for Democracy in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, advised Al Jazeera in emailed feedback. “Deep down he will have 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 primary of non-violence, he used to be a part of an influential ecumenical alliance of religion leaders advocating for liberal democracy in Hong Kong.”
The Catholic Church has been criticised for failing to take a more impregnable stand over Zen’s arrest and trial.
After he used to be charged on Would possibly 24, pictured strolling into court docket leaning closely on a stick, the church launched a brief commentary noting that he had pleaded no longer responsible and that it might “carefully track” 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 used to be requested about non secular freedom in China and Zen’s looming trial, he stated that whilst it used to be “no longer simple to know the Chinese language mentality”, it needed to be “reputable”, in step with a record in Catholic Information.
On Zen, he stated: “He says what he feels and we see that there are boundaries [in Hong Kong]”.
The pope, who spoke as he flew house from the Congress of Leaders of Global and Conventional Religions in Kazakhstan, added that he most popular to “make a selection the trail of debate”.
Experiences stated China’s President Xi Jinping, who used to be additionally on the assembly, refused a call for participation for talks with the pope as a result of his time table used to be complete.
‘Function of lifestyles’
Zen’s trial is the newest in reference to the 2019 protests, which started with mass marches towards a proposed invoice that will permit extradition to the mainland and, amid a perceived loss of motion from the federal government and heavy-handed police techniques, advanced into now and again violent protests not easy extra democracy within the Chinese language-ruled territory.
The gang arrange the 612 Humanitarian Reduction Fund in July 2019, naming it after the primary severe war of words between protesters and police the former month outdoor the barricaded development of the Legislative Council the place politicians have been because of 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 12 months after police introduced it used to be underneath investigation.
The fund’s closure, and the trial of those that based it, may even have repercussions for the hundreds going through fees from the 2019 protests whose felony prices may run into the masses of hundreds of Hong Kong greenbacks.
CHRD’s Nee stated the loss of investment choices may undermine the ones defendants’ proper to an even trial.
“It used to be imaginable sooner than to crowdsource a few of these prices however by means of slicing off the facility to take action, Beijing will make it a lot more tricky for other folks to have the funds for the felony sources to mount a cast defence,” he famous.
Zen has been out on bail pending trial.
At his first public look after his arrest, he addressed the Salesian Vocations Administrative center (China Province) about his motivations in lifestyles and why he had entered the priesthood.
He famous that the sector used to be “chaotic” and that some had been pushed by means of the want to pursue “cash, wealth, and gear” however, the retired bishop stated, “the aim of lifestyles” is studying what it way to be an individual of integrity, stuffed with a way of justice and kindness.
Regardless of his longstanding enhance for democratic reform, Zen had in large part have shyed away from any backlash from the government.
After the bishop’s arrest, newly-installed Hong Kong chief John Lee, a former police officer and safety leader, stated the arrest used to be no longer associated with Zen’s background or ideals, however that individuals who broke the legislation had to be held to account.
For Chow, now residing in the USA, the verdict to arrest and prosecute a person many in Hong Kong regard because the territory’s “ethical moral sense” is additional proof of the way a lot the territory has modified.
“Him being prosecuted is telling,” he stated. “It in reality presentations how the Hong Kong executive has shifted its mentality [and] the longer term trajectory of the way it would manner non secular freedom or political speech; whether or not Hong Kong will stay a loose society or whether or not that’s lengthy long past.”