Joseph Zen, 90, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and a cardinal, pleaded not guilty to charges brought by the Chinese Communist regime. Zen was accused in May of failing to register the 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund society, which provided legal and financial support to pro-democracy protesters between 2019 and 2021.
Zen is an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party, and is also recognized for his active commitment to human rights, religious freedom, and freedom of education. In 2003 he was named Hong Kong’s Man of the Year for his pro-democracy efforts.
Speaking to the BBC, he said, “I believe that everyone has the right to be involved with social issues in our societies. Since we are also members of the general public, when we have opinions on any issue, we should have the right to express them.”
Although he has been criticized by the CCP and instructed not to interfere in the politics of the regime, the cardinal maintained his opposition to the religious persecution systematically executed by the Communist Party in China.
The Zen also opposed the 2018 agreement made between the Vatican and the CCP to recognize Chinese bishops appointed by Party. At the time, he disapproved of the pact, telling Reuters that in Rome “They are [sending] the flock into the mouth of the wolves. It’s an unbelievable betrayal.”
The agreement gave the Vatican a say in the appointment of bishops and gave the pope veto power over candidates proposed by the CCP, but committed him to reinstate clerics who had been excommunicated. To do so, a Hong Kong bishop had to take his place.
Zen criticized Pope Francis’s proposals to China and the proposed changes in the diocese of Shantou, Guangdong, and said, “The consequences will be tragic and lasting, not only for the church in China, but for the whole church, because it damages credibility.”
For Zen, the regime should not interfere in the appointment of bishops. It is logical, what reason does an atheist regime have to define matters of faith institutions?
Zen’s activism included working to unite the two branches of the Catholic Church in China – divided between the official one, faithful to the Chinese communist regime, and the clandestine one, faithful to Rome and frequently denouncing the persecution suffered also in the official Church.
We point out that the agreement was made amid the repression of Christians and followers of other religions by the regime that has been going on for years. In the case of Christians, churches had been closed or demolished, and crosses and other religious symbols removed in different areas.
Repercussions of the prosecution of the nonagenarian priest
Possibly, his critical stance against the Vatican’s agreement with the Chinese communist regime earned him the pope’s silence in the face of his prosecution.
Those who rejected the accusations were his peers: In a letter published in the Italian newspaper Avvenire, Cardinal Filoni, also grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, said, “In a trial, testimony is fundamental. Cardinal Zen should not be condemned. Hong Kong, China and the Church have in him a devoted son, of whom they should not be ashamed. This is the testimony of the truth.”
The last British Governor of Hong Kong Lord Patten of Barnes, told Hong Kong Watch, “The arrest of Cardinal Zen, one of the most important figures in the Catholic Church in Asia and in the Catholic Church’s advocacy for human rights in China and elsewhere, is yet another outrageous example of how the Chinese Communist Party is hellbent on turning Hong Kong into a police state. The arrest of other decent and brave Hong Kong citizens at the same time doubles down on the wickedness of what the Communists are doing.”
The communist regime’s control over dissent in Hong Kong
The facts show that Hong Kong is on track to follow in the footsteps of mainland China. The CCP has a long history of persecuting any belief system, culture, and practice that represents ideas different from communist ideology. And in China it has become an everyday occurrence. Many people of faith fear for their lives on a daily basis.
On the island, activism has always been peaceful. After its annexation to mainland China, demonstrations became the target of police repression and accusations of violating national security.
The systematic and increasing arrests represent a provocation with impunity to the agreements concluded in 1997 with Great Britain. The disintegration of human rights in Hong Kong and the assimilation to mainland China’s policy of terror is a fact.
The national security law was passed unanimously by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress and came into force in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020, without any meaningful formal or local public consultation.
The law is directed against alleged acts of “secession,” “subversion of state power,” “terrorist activities,” and “collusion with foreign or outside forces to endanger national security.” The definition of “national security” offered by the regime lacks clarity and is used with unclear criteria.
There is no doubt that both its arbitrary sanctions and its purpose involve legitimizing globally prohibited actions. Curtailing inalienable human rights, the repression of dissent, and the silencing political opposition are practices banished in the interest of human freedom.
Regarding human rights in Hong Kong, Amnesty International’s 2021 report was blunt, “Ultimately, this sweeping and repressive law threatens to turn the city into a human rights wasteland increasingly reminiscent of mainland China.”
Since July 1, 2020, the regime has detained and prosecuted countless people under the act, just for exercising their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
Even worse: Those accused are subject to a presumption of guilt rather than innocence, which means that they are denied provisional release unless they can prove that they are not committing acts that threaten “national security.”
As a result, detainees are subjected to prolonged periods of pretrial detention. According to the Amnesty report, 70% of those formally prosecuted have been denied provisional release.
Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s regional director for Asia and Oceania, said, “In one year, the national security law has put Hong Kong on a fast track to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for those living there.”
Mishra charges, “From politics to culture to education to media, the law has affected each and every part of Hong Kong society and has fostered a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives.”
Is it right for a martyr of faith to pay for sins of political ambition? There is no virtue in curtailing individual freedoms in pursuit of domination. Perverse communist ideology invaded Hong Kong. Only 23 years of patient infiltration have passed. There are signs of global expansion. For now, it is happening to others. Should we wait for it to reach home? Should we wait for the same thing to happen as with the pandemic that no one is talking about anymore?