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Hong Kong’s Cardinal Zen, five others go on trial over protest fund

Asia's seniormost Church leader faced a trial as the Vatican drew renewed criticism for its silence

Published: September 30, 2022 11:23 AM GMT

Updated: October 02, 2022 05:47 AM GMT

Hong Kong’s outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen and five fellow democracy supporters faced a trial on Monday for their involvement in a humanitarian fund that supported anti-government protesters.

The 90-year-old Cardinal Zen and his companions were arrested in May under Hong Kong’s repressive national security law that Beijing imposed to crush the dissent and pro-democracy movement that engulfed the city in 2019.

The arrest of Cardinal Zen sparked global outrage and renewed criticism of the Vatican’s attempts to warm ties with Beijing as it seeks to extend a controversial agreement with the communist regime on the appointment of bishops in China. Cardinal Zen and the other five were initially accused of “colluding with foreign forces” but are not yet charged with a national security offense, which can carry a sentence of life in prison.

Instead, they are being prosecuted for failing to properly register the fund for which they face a fine of about 1,300 US dollars if convicted, but no jail time. The defendants have not pleaded guilty. The trial proceeding, scheduled to run for five days, was adjourned after two days.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholic clerics, arrives at a court for his trial in Hong Kong on Sept. 26

Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholic clerics, arrives at a court for his trial in Hong Kong on Sept. 26. (Photo: AFP)

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The Indian government banned an Islamist group and its affiliates for five years for its alleged links with terrorism, on Wednesday.

The authorities have accused the Popular Front of India commonly called PFI, of engaging in violent acts, including "chopping off the limb of a college professor, cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organizations espousing other faiths, obtaining explosives to target prominent people and places and destruction of public property."

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party supporters take part in a protest demanding a ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) in capital New Delhi on Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

The ban came after countrywide raids on PFI offices and houses of its leaders for over a week and arrests of over 200 of its leaders and associates. The group gained national infamy in 2010 when its members chopped off the hand of Catholic professor T.J. Joseph in the southern state of Kerala.

He was attacked after setting a question paper for his students that allegedly included derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammed. In 2015, a court jailed 13 people for the crime.

Catholic leaders in Pakistan have called for police reforms and a law to criminalize police brutality while pointing to a disproportionately high number of Christians who died in police custody.

The appeal came after 52-year-old Catholic Basir Masih died in police custody on September 17. He was arrested after being accused of stealing. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, he is the 17th Christian killed in police stations and jails since 2010.

Pakistani police stand guard ahead of a Muharram procession in Peshawar on Aug. 7. The police are notorious for inhuman torture and custodial deaths are common in the nation. (Photo: AFP)

Police in Pakistan are accused of various forms of torture beatings with batons and leather straps, stretching and crushing legs with metal rods, sexual violence, prolonged sleep deprivation, and causing severe mental anguish by forcing detainees to watch other people being tortured.

The parliament passed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act in August this year, which seeks to criminalize torture by security forces. The law has yet to be enacted.

Sri Lankan activists including Catholics have urged the country’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe to reveal the truth about the deadly Easter Sunday attack of 2019 after the Supreme Court removed his name as a respondent from the fundamental rights petitions filed in the matter. The court removed his name as the Constitution provides legal immunity to the president. 

Activists have repeatedly blamed former President Maithripala Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, who was then the prime minister, for their lack of communication and coordination, which apparently caused the failure to prevent the bombings despite intelligence inputs.

The heavily damaged interior of St. Sebastian's Church after the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019. (Photo: Facebook/ UCA files)

Oblate priest Father Rohan Silva, a petitioner, said as the former prime minister, Wickremesinghe should reveal whatever he knows and how he failed to prevent the attack, or he has “no moral right to remain in the position as a president.”

President Wickremesinghe had recently said he will seek assistance from the Scotland Yard Police for the investigations into the attack. Meanwhile, ex-president Sirisena is expected to appear in court in October. 

At least 61 Hindus died and dozens were missing after a boat packed with devotees capsized in a river in northern Bangladesh. The tragedy occurred when the overcrowded boat carrying about 100 passengers sank on the Karatoya river in Panchgarh district last Sunday.

The devotees were heading to a temple to join a worship to start off the Durga Puja, a major Hindu festival in Bangladesh and India. Local villagers said that in absence of a bridge over the river people were to take boats to cross the river. Family members of the victims too lamented that a bridge could have prevented the tragedy.

People gather as rescuers pull bodies after a boat packed with Hindu devotees sank in northern Bangladesh, leaving at least 61 dead. (Photo: Firoz Al Sabah/AFP)

The government has announced a compensation package for the victims and formed a committee to investigate the accident. 

In low-lying riverine Bangladesh, waterways provide cheap mode of transport for millions. However, due to lax rules, poor safety standards and overcrowding hundreds die in frequent ferry accidents every year.

Church leaders and family members in the Philippines have welcomed a ruling from the International Criminal Court that rejected the government’s bid to stop an investigation into the deadly anti-drug war under former president, Rodrigo Duterte.

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The decision of the Hague-based court was made public on Tuesday. It reportedly ignited hopes among families of thousands of people brutally killed during the drug war.

Police gather over the body of a suspect killed during an anti-drug operation at an informal settlers' area near a port in Manila, Nov. 16, 2016 (Photo: AFP)

The government of current President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. recently moved to halt the ICC investigation, claiming the court has no jurisdiction over alleged crimes against humanity and also argued that there was already an ongoing investigation by various government agencies. ICC prosecutor Kaim Khan said that “none of those arguments have merit.”

Rights groups say up to 30,000 people became victims of extrajudicial killings during the so-called war against illegal drugs by President Duterte. To avoid possible prosecution, the Duterte administration withdrew the Philippines from the ICC in 2019. The court said it still has jurisdiction as the crimes were committed when the country was still a member of the tribunal.

Japan faces further social and economic uncertainties due to a constant fall in birth rates. A new survey suggests more than 60 percent of single women are opposed to having children after marriage.

The National Fertility Report 2021 revealed that only 36.6 percent of single women, aged 18 years to 34 years, believe couples should have children. The figure has dropped almost by half from 2015 when 67.4 percent of single women were positive about having children after marriage.

A Japanese schoolgirl waits to cross a Tokyo road. The country’s younger generations will struggle to pay the costs of a society where nearly a third of the population are aged 65 or over amid a gradual fall in birth rates. (Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP)

The report also showed 55 percent of single men want children after marriage in 2021, as against 75.4 percent in 2015. Experts have termed the findings “shocking” as Japan had 1.3 births per woman in 2020, compared to 2.1 births in the 1960s.

Japan’s population dropped from 124.6 million in 2020 to 123.9 million in 2021. The population loss was 700,000 in just one year. With more than 28 percent of the population aged 60 or above, Japan is known as a “super-aged society.”

Catholic activists and advocacy groups in Indonesia have demanded a strong crackdown against corruption in the judiciary as a Supreme Court judge was arrested on charges of bribery.

The Corruption Eradication Commission arrested Judge Sudrajad Dimyati last Friday. Nine other people, including a clerk and prosecutors' staff, as well as two businessmen and their two lawyers were also arrested. One of the lawyers is a Catholic.

Graft-accused Supreme Court Judge Sudrajad Dimyati is seen wearing an orange vest after being detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission. (Photo: The Corruption Eradication Commission)

The judge allegedly received 800 million rupiah or about 53000 US dollars in bribes in exchange for a cassation decision in favor of two businessmen, who are accused of swindling funds from a cooperative bank. Catholic lawyer and rights activist Azas Tigor Nainggolan said that bribery “is a common practice in judicial proceedings,” which often deny justice to poor and powerless people.

Anti-graft group, Indonesia Corruption Watch, noted that 21 judges have been implicated in corruption cases. Indonesia is ranked 90th out of a total of 180 countries in the latest global corruption index.

Catholics in Cambodia joined by Buddhists celebrated a traditional religious festival to honor their ancestors. The faithful attended special prayers, Holy Mass, decorated tombs and made food offerings as they marked the Pchum Ben festival.

In the Khmer language, Pchum means “a gathering or meeting” and Ben stands for “ball of something” such as rice or meat. It is a 15-day festival culminating on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, at the end of Buddhist Lent, Vassa.

Catholics gather in a graveyard in Battambang province of Cambodia to mark Pchum Ben as a priest sprinkles holy water on tombs. (Photo: Seng Moy)

This year, the festival was held from September 11-26. Buddhists believe the souls of their ancestors are released for 15 days every year when they start the journey to purgatory, and their destination is decided by their karma or deeds and the offerings made by their living relatives during Pchum Ben.

Catholics who joined the festival in their native villages said the occasion offers an opportunity to show respect to their ancestors and to express love for their parents and neighbors. The Vatican allowed Cambodian Catholics to observe the festival in the 1970s.

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