There is sufficient evidence against ninety-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen and five other Hong Kong pro-democracy figures to justify a trial over their role in a defunct protester relief fund, a magistrate has ruled.

Zen, barrister Margaret Ng, ex-lawmaker Cyd Ho, scholar Hui Po-keung, singer-activist Denise Ho, and Sze Ching-wee, stand accused of failing to register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund as a society.

margaret ng denise ho 612 humanitarian relief fund
Denise Ho and Margaret Ng at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building for the trial over the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund on September 27, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

They appeared in front of Principal Magistrate Ada Yim at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts for the second consecutive day on Tuesday, when five prosecution witnesses, including four police officers, were called to testify in court.

The prosecution also read out the full names of employees of Sze’s company ET Aqua Consultancy, saying that the fund had given money to the firm to pay the salaries of over 20 people.

One of those witnesses, a sergeant from the National Security Department of the police, said that he had not seen all of the funds’ documents, only those given to him by his superior. He also said that he had not paid attention to the sequence of the documents, or the amounts in the transactions.

Separately, the lawyer representing the cardinal asked a senior police inspector whether the funeral committee for the late Macau tycoon Stanley Ho and Chief Executive John Lee’s election office were registered societies.

However, the line of cross-examination was stopped by the prosecution and the magistrate, who questioned the relevance of whether other groups were registered societies.

west kowloon court
Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Following the cross-examination of the five witnesses, Yim ruled that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to make a prima facie case against the defendants, and that the group had a case to answer.

Interpretation of the Societies Ordinance

The six defendants will not testify in court, nor will they call any witnesses, their legal representatives said. However, the defence said that it would submit a number of legal arguments to the court, including on the interpretation of the Societies Ordinance.

In response, Yim said that there were some groups that were exempt from registration as a society, such as funeral committees.

“If anyone died in the family and there had to be a funeral committee, they [were gathered] not because of an aim, but to complete something,” Yim said, adding that she did not see it as an example of a society that required registration.

Yim requested the parties to file submissions on how a society should be defined under the ordinance, and stressed that the matter had to be “dealt with [using] common sense.”

Ada Yim
Principal Magistrate Ada Yim. Photo: Judiciary.

Arguments on the legal definition of office-bearers of a society, and the spirit of the ordinance were also requested by the magistrate.

The trial will continue on October 26.

Launched in June 2019 at the beginning of the extradition bill protest, the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund provided legal assistance, financial support for psychological counselling and medical treatment, and emergency monetary relief to thousands of demonstrators.

The fund was disbanded in October last year after it learned that the company holding the fund, the Alliance for True Democracy Limited, would soon be defunct.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.