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The trial of former bishop of Hong Kong and retired Cardinal Joseph Zen has been postponed.
Zen, a high-profile Catholic cleric and opponent of the Chinese Communist Party, will be out of court for at least two more days after Permanent Magistrate Ada Yim Shun-yee was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Shun-yee was overseeing the trial, which began Sept. 19.
The elderly cardinal’s trial was expected to wrap up by Sept. 25, but the COVID-19 scare is expected to significantly lengthen the process.
Zen was arrested earlier this year by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for allegedly colluding with foreign forces by failing to register his pro-democracy charity fund with the government.
The 90-year-old cardinal was arrested with four other pro-democracy advocates who served as trustees of a relief fund used to bail out protesters and pay legal fees, according to Catholic News Agency. The five arrestees are charged with not registering the charity with the government.
All five have submitted pleas of not guilty.
In addition to Zen, others on trial include Barrister Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, scholar Hui Po-keung, former legislator Cyd Ho and activist Sze Ching-wee, who served as the fund’s secretary general before it shut down last October. Zen has been out on bail since May 11.
Zen previously dismissed fears that he was a target for arrest, stating that he tries not to provoke the CCP. However, he later acknowledged that “no public person who dares to speak freely can feel safe anymore.”
Zen is at the epicenter of the Catholic Church‘s fight for survival in China. The nation has rolled out intense censures on religious expression, including Christianity, which it regulates through state-sponsored “patriotic associations.” Chinese citizens who wish to worship at a Catholic Church (or any other house of worship) are required to register with an aggressively pro-CCP governing body for their faith.
These organizations often force churches to teach counter to their dogma, and often insert nationalistic propaganda into worship. This regulation has forced a schism in the Chinese Catholic Church – the “official” and CCP-approved ministry, and the clandestine, illegal “underground church.”
Zen has served as an unofficial spokesman for the underground Catholic community, which has seen little support or protection from the Chinese government. The CCP explicitly condemns the underground church for its affiliation and loyalty to a foreign power – the worldwide Catholic communion.