China returns eight Hong Kong 'speedboat fugitives'

A van carrying activist Andy Li Tsz-Yin pulls into Tin Shui Wai Divisional Police Station in Hong Kong on March 22, 2021.
A van carrying activist Andy Li Tsz-Yin pulls into Tin Shui Wai Divisional Police Station in Hong Kong on March 22, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (AFP) - Eight Hong Kongers who were part of a group of democracy activists that failed to flee the city by speedboat last year were handed back to the authorities on Monday (March 22) after serving jail sentences in mainland China.

Dubbed by supporters as "The Hong Kong 12", the group was picked up by the Chinese coast guard last August as they tried to make a break for nearby Taiwan. Those on board were being prosecuted for actions linked to 2019's huge and often violent democracy protests. The charges they faced ranged from rioting and attempted arson to possession of offencive weapons and making explosives.

The group disappeared into the mainland's judicial system after their capture and were eventually convicted for crossing China's border illegally.

On Monday, eight of them were handed over to Hong Kong police having completed their sentences. "They have been deported in batches on the day in accordance with the law," police in Yantian, the mainland district where the group were jailed, said in a statement.

Hong Kong police confirmed their return in a separate statement. Images published by local media showed some of those being returned had black hoods placed over their heads as they were marched by officers into a Hong Kong police station close to the border with the mainland.

Among those returned into Hong Kong custody on Monday was Andy Li. Before he fled, he was arrested under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year.

More than 100 people have been arrested under the law which carries up to life in prison. Another of the returned fugitives is a dual national with Hong Kong and Portuguese citizenship. Two teens in the group - a 16- and 17-year old - were returned to Hong Kong last December.

The two remaining members of the group were given longer sentences for organising an illegal border crossing and remain in prison on the mainland. They all now face a restart to their prosecutions in Hong Kong and are likely to remain detained.