HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong on Friday (July 15) jailed seven people who were part of a failed 2020 attempt to flee to Taiwan by speedboat to dodge protest-related prosecutions.
The seven, aged between 19 and 32, were sentenced to 10 months in prison for perverting the course of public justice - the first time in Hong Kong that the charge has been applied to absconding fugitives.
The defendants were part of a group of 12 Hong Kongers that made a break for Taiwan in August 2020, as they faced serious charges - including rioting, attempted arson and making explosives - related to the huge and sometimes violent democracy protests that convulsed the city the year before.
But they were picked up by the Chinese coast guard and disappeared into the mainland's opaque judicial system, eventually being convicted behind closed doors for crossing China's border illegally.
Most of the group were then sent back to Hong Kong after a few months of detention.
Hong Kong judge Newman Wong on Friday said that the escape bid had "disdained and deliberately challenged" the city's administration of justice.
The group of 12, along with other accomplices, had made an "extensive and organised" plan that spanned nearly six months and involved substantial manpower, resources and finances, Judge Wong said.
Some of the defendants had taken lessons to operate the speedboat and they had chosen clandestine routes on the day of their escape, showing the case to be premeditated and serious, Judge Wong added.
"It is a pity I have to sentence to jail what is supposed to be a group of enterprising young people," the judge said.
"But lawbreaking must be sanctioned."
Two of the original group of 12 are still serving prison sentences in mainland China.
Family members of one of them, Tang Kai-yin, said they had not received letters from him since February.
Tang's prison expenses ledger, which was viewable online, has not been updated since May, his younger brother told Hong Kong media, adding he was worried about how Tang was being treated.
The other Hong Konger still in a mainland prison, Quinn Moon, is expected to be released next month.
Apart from the seven jailed on Friday, another of the group who was sent back to Hong Kong, Andy Li, was charged with foreign collusion last year under a national security law.
More than 180 people have been arrested over the past two years since the Beijing-imposed security law came into force - the bulk of them activists, unionists and journalists - and over 110 have been prosecuted.