Days after Cardinal Joseph Zen’s defense lawyer made his closing arguments in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, one of the pro-democracy advocates on trial with the cardinal was arrested under Hong Kong’s national security law.
Sze Ching-wee, the former secretary of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, was arrested at the Hong Kong airport on Nov. 5.
Police told the Hong Kong Free Press that Sze was suspected of conspiring “to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
Sze has been on trial with the 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong and four other trustees of the pro-democracy 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.
The verdict in the trial is expected to be handed down on Nov. 25.
Those accused with Cardinal Zen and Sze are lawyer Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-Keung, and ex-legislator Cyd Ho.
Cyd Ho is already jailed for a different charge. Sze has been released on bail and is required to report to the police in February.
Zen and the fund’s other trustees were arrested in May by national security police but the cardinal was released on bail and now faces a less serious charge with a maximum penalty of a US$1,200 (HK$10,000) fine.
All six have pleaded not guilty to charges that they failed to apply for local society registration for the now-disbanded fund that helped Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters pay for their legal fees and medical treatments.
Senior Counsel Robert Pang defended Zen in court and argued on Oct. 31 that imposing “criminal sanctions on the failure to register must be an infringement of freedom of association.”
Pang has also represented Jimmy Lai, a Catholic pro-democracy advocate and former publisher of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily who has been jailed since December 2020 for violating the national security law.
Lai’s trial is scheduled for Dec. 1. Pang told local media that he would file an application on Nov. 18 to halt the trial on the grounds that it would be heard by a panel of three judges instead of a jury, the usual protocol for trials at Hong Kong’s High Court.
In a recent interview, Hong Kong’s current bishop said that the Catholic Church has “not remained idle” in the face of challenges posed by the national security law.
Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan, who has led the Diocese of Hong Kong for nearly a year, has remained largely out of the public eye and has chosen not to make any statements since the start of Zen’s trial in September.
Chow said in an interview with a local Jesuit publication that Catholic institutions had increased support for young people who are in jail by providing education and rehabilitation.
According to the South China Morning Post, the Catholic Church runs 224 social and charitable organizations across Hong Kong, as well as 249 educational institutions with 140,000 students.
“The difficulty of the national security law lies in not knowing where the red line is,” Chow said.
“Educators, social workers, and even legal professionals face barriers. Experts and law enforcers might have a different understanding [of the law].”