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Cardinal Joseph Zen holds a mass at the Holy Cross Church on May 24, 2022, in Hong KongPhoto by Louise Delmotte/Getty Images

HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) – A Hong Kong magistrate has ruled that Cardinal Joseph Zen and five co-defendants will face trial next month, after determining at a preliminary hearing that there is sufficient evidence of improperly registering a legal aid fund for freedom activists.

After his hearing was initially delayed owing to a magistrate contracting the novel coronavirus, Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, appeared in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday – on day two of a planned five-day hearing.

Principal magistrate Ada Yim ruled that the prosecution had provided sufficient evidence against the six defendants after hearing the testimonies of five prosecution witnesses, including four police officers, the Hong Kong Free Press reported, adjourning the preliminary proceedings.

Zen was originally arrested on May 11 under China’s draconian national security law alongside barrister Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung, activist Sze Ching-wee, and former legislator Cyd Ho, who is already imprisoned over “illegal assemblies.”

Prosecutors argued that Zen and his five co-defendants had failed to properly register the fund they established in June 2019 – the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund – to provide legal assistance to freedom fighters who had been detained by Chinese authorities, as well as using the fund to bankroll “political activities and non-charity events.”

All defendants have pled not guilty, with the defense arguing that the group have a protected right which allows them to form an association under the city’s Basic Law, the framework established upon China’s reception of Hong Kong from British rule.

However, Yim adjourned the hearing and the cardinal will now face trial, beginning October 26.

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the group does not intend to testify in court, nor call witnesses, relying instead on legal arguments regarding Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance, to be submitted to the court by their counsel.

The 90-year-old prelate will be liable for a fine of around $1,200 if found guilty of the lesser charge of failing to register the fund properly; however, should he be indicted under the national security law on the original charges of “colluding with foreign forces,” he could be extradited to mainland China where it is possible he could be imprisoned for life.

The Vatican has earned much criticism for remaining largely silent on Zen’s trial, with Pope Francis suggesting that the cardinal may be to blame for his current situation.

“Cardinal Zen is going to trial these days, I think. And he says what he feels, and you can see that there are limitations there,” the Pope told reporters on the his return flight from Kazakhstan.