Cyd Ho (on the far right of the foregrounded group)
in what we now look upon as better days
Earlier this month, Hong Kong was shocked to see the arrests of 90-year-old Cardinal Zen and his fellow 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund trustees on suspicion of having "conspired to collude with foreign forces", a "crime" under the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020. And although the Cardinal was freed on bail along with the others charged within hours of their arrest (bar for former legislative councillor Cyd Ho, who's serving time in prison for having her part in "inciting" and "organizing" "unauthorized" assemblies in 2019), they all were set to appear in court today; and so it proved.
The day before the appointed court date (i.e., yesterday) though, it was learnt that the charges against Cardinal Zen and Co (who include eminent lawyer Margaret Ng and singer-actress-activist Denise Ho) had been changed to a lesser one of "failing to register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund with the government". And this morning, came the further report that the maximum penalty for this charge is "just" a HK$10,000 fine.
As lawyer Kevin Yam was moved to Tweet upon hearing of the revised charges against the fund's trustees and secretary: "#HongKong to the world: if we couldn’t get dissidents by the Mainland China way (eg National Security Law), then we will get at them the Singapore way (pissy little administrative technicalities dressed up as criminal offences)." At the same time, one also can't put it past the authorities to level more charges in the future, including the original national security law one, against the trustees of this fund set up to provide humanitarian relief to people injured, arrested, attacked or threatened with violence during the extradition bill protests. And that's the rub.
In addition, the fact of the matter remains that all the people charged with this "offence" have nonetheless had to surrender their passports and not be allowed to travel outside of Hong Kong. Put another way: one could say that they have been left immobile despite not having been convicted. Also, they -- who have all pleaded not guilty as charged -- surely can't help feel like they have a sword hanging over their head for at least the next few months as their trial won't actually start until September 19th.
At least though, they (bar for Cyd Ho) remain free on bail. And it's amazing the courage and fortitude they have shown, and continue to show, today and in recent days. For example, on her friend, Cantopop lyricist Wyman Wong's birthday last Saturday, Denise Ho performed his songs at a "minilive" show and announced that "I am happy, I am really happy. I know everyone is worried about me, but there’s no need to worry... I think the most happy thing in life is you can walk each step stably and able to tell yourself: I know what I am doing with no regret."
And today, hours after appearing in court for the first time in his life as a defendant, Cardinal Zen celebrated mass. On this world day of prayer for China's churches, the good Cardinal noted that "Many from the [Catholic] community cannot join the mass today because they have lost their freedom. May peace be with them always."
Among them is a man who was baptized by Cardinal Zen in 1997: Jimmy Lai. Another Christian (albeit a Protestant) currently spending time in Hong Kong's prisons: former law professor Benny Tai, who, also today, was sentenced to a further 10 months in prison "over illegal election spending, after he placed adverts in local newspapers ahead of the 2016 Legislative Council election". Put another way: He was jailed for "for illegally promoting a strategic voting plan to maximise pro-democracy camp’s seat in 2016 Legco election." Or, as Louisa Lim pointed out, he was sentenced to jail "for formulating an election strategy for the pro-democracy camp" -- something which, really, doesn't sound like it should be illegal, right?
Here's leaving it to Kevin Yam again to cut to the chase, this time by way of the following Tweet: "Let’s be clear. Benny pleaded guilty to everything and took it all upon himself to save others who were also ridiculously threatened with jail…" And for the record: The charges against his two other co-defendants – Ip Kim-ching and Sek Sau-ching – were indeed dropped, albeit conditionally, after Tai "pleaded guilty to everything".
Responding to Tai’s 10-month sentence, human rights NGO Amnesty International stated that: "The jail term handed today to fired Hong Kong scholar Benny Tai is another politically motivated attack based on his pro-democracy activism. Hong Kong authorities and universities must stop silencing academics critical of the government." If only the Vatican would release a similar statement in support of Cardinal Zen and other Hong Kongers persecuted by the authorities. Sadly, based on Pope Francis' record with regards to Hong Kong (and China as a whole), I don't think we can count on that happening any time soon.