A Chinese court on Wednesday jailed 10 Hong Kong democracy activists for up to three years to flee the city to Taiwan by speedboat as crackdown on dissent on the territory mounts.
The group was arrested on August 23 by the Chinese Coast Guard en route to the self-governing island that has opened its doors to Hong Kong seeking refuge.
The court in the southern city of Shenzhen sentenced Tang Kai-yin to three years in prison and Quinn Moon to two years in prison for organizing an illegal border crossing.
The other eight were sentenced to seven months in prison for illegally crossing the border.
The conviction follows the introduction of a comprehensive new security law in Hong Kong earlier this year, which has given the government extensive powers to persecute political dissidents.
A number of activists have fled the city overseas and political organizations have closed their doors as Beijing tried to contain the unrest that rocked the financial center for months over the past year.
Officials said earlier that two minors from so-called “Hong Kong 12”, aged 17 and 18, would return to Hong Kong after admitting wrongdoing.
The couple arrived back in town around noon on Wednesday.
The 10 adults in the group first appeared in the Shenzhen court on Monday, but the trial, like many in China’s opaque legal system, was not open to foreign reporters or diplomats.
These 10 were fined up to 20,000 yuan (US $ 3,060) in addition to their sentences.
However, the Yantian District People’s Procuratorate said they would not pursue their case against the two teenagers, last names Hoang and Liu.
“Escape from Tyranny”
The families of the defendants were only informed of the trial date three days before the hearing and were unable to attend due to short-term and Covid-19 restrictions.
Her lawyers were not allowed to meet the detainees. Instead, the authorities appointed a state-recognized legal representative.
The lawyers said on Wednesday that the sentences were too severe and that the charge of organizing a border crossing was unfounded.
The United States on Monday called for the immediate release of the group allegedly “fleeing tyranny”.
“Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” a US embassy spokesman told AFP.
Some members of the group have already been prosecuted in Hong Kong. The two minors are charged with conspiracy, arson and possession of an offensive weapon.
Amnesty International said in a statement that the group is at risk of torture and is sentenced to prison terms in mainland China prisons.
“These verdicts, imposed after an unfair trial, exposed the dangers faced by anyone under the Chinese criminal system,” said Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director.
“The Chinese authorities have again shown the world that political activists will not receive a fair trial.”
China’s Foreign Ministry resisted comments from abroad on the case on Monday.
Washington must “immediately stop meddling in China’s domestic affairs through the Hong Kong issue and immediately stop meddling in China’s judicial sovereignty,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
“De facto secret”
In a joint letter over the weekend, the families said they “strongly condemn” the authorities’ decision to keep the trial “de facto secret”.
The Security Act, which now encompasses Hong Kong, gives the authorities full law enforcement powers for acts deemed terrorism, secession, subversion, or collusion with foreign corporations.
The city had enjoyed unique freedoms since it was surrendered by former colonial power Great Britain in 1997, with an agreement promising a “one country, two systems” agreement for 50 years.
Beijing says the new security law was necessary to restore peace and stability, but critics have condemned it as a deadly attack on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)