HONG KONG (AFP, REUTERS) - A Chinese court on Wednesday (Dec 30) jailed 10 Hong Kong democracy activists for up to three years over a bid by the group to flee the city by speedboat to seek sanctuary in Taiwan.
The group was arrested by the Chinese coastguard on Aug 23 en route to Taiwan, which has opened its doors to Hong Kongers amid a growing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
The group had all faced charges in Hong Kong over anti-government protests in the China-ruled territory and have been held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison since their boat was intercepted.
The Shenzhen Yantian District People’s court sentenced Tang Kai Yin to three years in jail and Quinn Moon to two years for organising an illegal border crossing.
“These sentences meted out after an unfair trial lay bare the dangers faced by anybody who finds themselves tried under the Chinese criminal system,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said in a statement. “This group of young Hongkongers will be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Chinese jails.”
The defendants all appeared for the verdicts and were taken away afterwards.
Mainland authorities appointed lawyers for the defendants but they were not available for comment. A Shenzhen public security bureau spokesman said the sentences would take into account the time the 10 had already spent in detention.
Relatives of the defendants say they were denied access to independent lawyers and their repeated requests to visit the group were denied. Families of the accused were notified of the trial date only three days before the hearing.
Officials earlier said that two minors from the so-called “Hong Kong 12” would be returned to Hong Kong after they admitted wrongdoing. The pair arrived back in the city at around noon on Wednesday.
After the verdicts were announced, Hong Kong police said that the two youngest of the group, now aged 17 and 18, had been handed over to authorities and would appear in court in the financial hub after completing quarantine for coronavirus.
“Hong Kong police want to reiterate the seriousness of absconding; society will not tolerate criminals who are waiting for court hearing but choose to abscond,” said Cheng Lai-ki, acting chief superintendent of the commercial crime bureau.
The Yantian District People’s Procuratorate said it would not pursue its case against the two teenagers, surnamed Hoang and Liu.
The 10 adults in the group first appeared before a court in the southern city of Shenzhen on Monday, but the trial – like many in China’s opaque legal system – was not open to foreign reporters or diplomats.
These 10 were also fined up to 20,000 yuan (S$4,060) in addition to their jail terms.
The United States on Monday called for the immediate release of the group who it said were “fleeing tyranny”.
“Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” a US embassy spokesman told AFP.