Former Hong Kong Catholic leader Cardinal Joseph Zen and five others have denied accusations of failing to register a relief fund aimed at assisting protesters who faced legal costs during the 2019 anti-government protests.

The six, who include singer Denise Ho and former opposition lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho, were arrested two weeks ago on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces.

They appeared at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon court on Tuesday.

Cardinal Zen and the five others were trustees of the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was set up in 2019 to assist protesters who required financial assistance with legal or medical costs.

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Hong Kong singer Denise Ho, Hong Kong scholar Hui Po-keung, Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen and barrister Margaret Ng were among those facing court (Kin Cheung/AP)

They were charged with failing to register the fund as an organization with the police — an offence that could incur a fine of up to 10,000 Hong Kong dollars (£1,000).

The trial will begin on September 19 and will take place over five days.

Cardinal Zen’s arrest was condemned internationally, with the Vatican saying that it was monitoring developments.

The charges against the six comes after Hong Kong launched a crackdown on political dissent in recent years.

The police launched an investigation into the fund on national security grounds in September 2021. A month later, the fund said it would stop operating, citing the city’s deteriorating political environment.

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Cardinal Joseph Zen’s arrest sparked international condemnation (Kin Cheung/AP)

Scores of pro-democracy activists have been arrested under a sweeping National Security Law imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020 following the demonstrations, including veteran lawmaker Martin Lee and publisher Jimmy Lai. The law outlaws subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, and has since been used to arrest over 150 people in the city.

Pro-democracy news outlets such as Apple Daily and Stand News have been forced to shut following national security investigations.

Electoral laws have also been amended to ensure that only “patriots” are allowed to govern the city, effectively preventing pro-democracy supporters from taking office.