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Cardinal Zen’s sentencing is about Hong Kong's democracy

The 90-year-old was condemned not as a Catholic clergyman, but as a democratic leader
Cardinal Joseph Zen (center) with ex-lawmaker Cyd Ho (left) after being found guilty outside the west Kowloon court in Hong Kong on Nov. 25

Cardinal Joseph Zen (center) with ex-lawmaker Cyd Ho (left) after being found guilty outside the west Kowloon court in Hong Kong on Nov. 25. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 28, 2022 04:20 AM GMT
Updated: November 28, 2022 04:37 AM GMT

The sentence that Judge Ada Yim imposed on 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen and five other exponents of the Hong Kong democratic movement on Nov. 25 can be interpreted in two different ways.

Many in Hong Kong consider it as an intimidation measure, aimed at sending a warning to those who have believed and hoped in democracy. After all, there was a guilty sentence, and it was against a popular religious leader, an unprecedented fact for Hong Kong.

On the other hand, one can read in the modest size of the fine, HK$4,000 (about US$510), the will to close in a low-profile manner a story that was proving to be embarrassing for the Hong Kong police, judiciary and political authorities.

Both readings are justified, and both contain their own truth.

"The cardinal's guilty verdict does not concern the issue of religious freedom in Hong Kong"

The ordinance on the basis of which the cardinal and his companions were sentenced dates back to 1911. In those very distant times, the British colonial authorities introduced it to counter secret societies, the Triads’ ones to start with, and perhaps also for Masonic affiliations out of government control.

Resorting to an obsolete law, alien to the emancipated and post-colonial social and political reality of today's Hong Kong, shows the instrumental nature of the lawsuit against the cardinal and his fellow sufferers.

It is to be hoped that the story will end like this. The cardinal himself did not want to excessively amplify the trial story, hoping precisely for a low-profile and painless outcome.

We hope, therefore, that the cardinal will not be called to answer for the crime of "collusion with foreign forces," as it appeared following his arrest.

This matter does not yet seem completely clarified. The latter offense, introduced by the 2020 National Security Law, may be punishable by long prison terms and would have enormous and disturbing political significance.

The cardinal's guilty verdict does not concern the issue of religious freedom in Hong Kong, much less that in China. And it is not a message from China to the Vatican.

This sentence concerns the issue of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. Cardinal Zen was condemned not as a Catholic leader but as a democratic leader.

Furthermore, it is a significant fact that almost all democratic leaders, many of them in prison, have a Christian background, as we have often noted.

"The issue here is the suppression of the democracy movement"

AsiaNews has revealed that Cardinal Zen did not want his sentence to be less than that of the other defendants, including the well-known singer Denise Ho. I think he wanted to underline precisely this: "I am in this affair not because of my religious identity, but as a citizen of Hong Kong who is committed to democracy."

The commentaries on Cardinal Zen’s predicament should not dwell so much on his religious affiliation and on the institutional bond that, as a cardinal, he has with the Vatican. The issue here is the suppression of the democracy movement and the end of Hong Kong's political freedoms.

There is not enough awareness of the gravity of its political and social tragedy.

After the democratic demise of Hong Kong, we had the horrific coup in Myanmar; the maneuvers to intimidate Taiwan; the autocratic involution of China, as seen in the outcome of the last congress of the Communist Party.

After the fall of Hong Kong, the world enjoys less freedom, less democracy and no peace.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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1 Comments on this Story
Gross! An ageing Cardinal of the Catholic Church being punished by China in the face of stoic silence on the part of the Vatican - read that as 'by the Pope'.
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