Chinese authorities said Wednesday they have formally arrested 12 Hong Kong residents who were caught fleeing the city in an ill-fated attempt to escape to Taiwan, paving the way for them to be tried on the mainland even as their families plead for their return.
The dozen were caught Aug. 23 in the South China Sea after leaving Hong Kong by speedboat and have been held in China ever since. Prosecutors in Shenzhen said 10 were arrested for crossing the Chinese border illegally, while the other two were held for organizing the crossing. The decision indicates the prosecutor is preparing to bring charges and gives authorities the green light to keep the group in a mainland detention center for months.
Family members have demanded the group be given access to lawyers and phone calls and be returned to Hong Kong. On Wednesday, parents and siblings protested in front of the Chinese government’s main office in Hong Kong to press their demands. They said mainland authorities had repeatedly denied meeting requests by lawyers secured by the families, asserting that the detainees had chosen their own legal representatives.
In a statement late Wednesday night, the families said they were “shocked and concerned by the decision.”
They expressed fear that the 12 people had already been subject to torture and might face secret hearings, and demanded the names of the government-appointed lawyers be revealed.
The detainees are wanted in Hong Kong, too. The city’s Security Bureau said last week it learned the detainees had each hired two lawyers on the mainland.
The fate of the 12 detainees has become another flashpoint as Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp struggles with a national-security law imposed by Beijing at the end of June. Activists have called for protests Thursday, China’s National Day, and are seeking to bring attention to the case.
Arrests of activists and a heavy police presence, along with the coronavirus pandemic, have damped protests this year.
It was the prospect of detention in the mainland’s opaque and politicized judicial system under an extradition bill considered by the legislature last year that triggered large protests that rocked the city. The detention of the escapees also has evoked the experience of Simon Cheng, an employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong who participated in protests and said he was tortured by China’s secret police while detained last fall in Shenzhen. China at the time denied Mr. Cheng was tortured and said he confessed to soliciting prostitution.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China to ensure that the activists caught on the speedboat receive due process of law.
Among the 12 people on the boat, all but one had been arrested in Hong Kong for alleged roles in the protests or were already facing trial. One had been charged for manufacturing explosives, and three were linked to a police raid that turned up a gun and bullets. The group also included Andy Li, an activist who was arrested in Hong Kong during a sweep by police in August for colluding with foreign powers and then released on bail.
Tang Kai-yin, a 30-year-old salesman who had been arrested in a protest for arson a year ago, was named by Shenzhen prosecutors as one of the organizers of the escape, alongside Quinn Moon, the only woman on the boat.
Write to Wenxin Fan at [email protected]
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