HK court convicts cardinal over fund

A 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal and five others in Hong Kong have been fined for failing to register a now-defunct fund that helped people arrested in the widespread protests three years ago.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, a retired bishop and a vocal democracy advocate, was arrested in May on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under a Beijing-imposed national security law.

His arrest sent shock waves through the Catholic community, although the Vatican stated only that it was monitoring the situation.

While Zen and other activists at the trial have not yet been charged with national security-related charges, they were charged with failing to properly register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pay medical and legal fees for arrested protesters from 2019 to 2021.

Zen, alongside singer Denise Ho, scholar Hui Po Keung and former lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho, were trustees of the fund.

They were found guilty and each fined $HK4000 Hong Kong ($A760). A sixth defendant, fund secretary Sze Ching-wee, was fined $HK2500.

The judgement was significant because it was the first time that residents were charged with failing to register, Ng told reporters after Friday's hearing.

Its effect on freedom of association was also important, she said.

But Zen said his case should not be linked with the city's religious freedoms. "I haven't seen any erosion of religious freedoms in Hong Kong," he said.

The 2019 protests were sparked by a since-withdrawn bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Opposition morphed into months of violent unrest in the city.

The national security law has crippled Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement since 2020, with many activists being arrested or jailed in the semi-autonomous city.

The British colony returned to China's rule in 1997.