Ten of the 12 Hong Kong people held by China at sea are to be tried in the mainland city of Shenzhen on Monday, supporters said, as activists called for fair hearings and the United States called for the group’s “immediate release” .
The 12 were intercepted by the Chinese Coast Guard on August 23 on a speedboat believed to be bound for Taiwan.
The case has attracted great interest in Hong Kong and abroad as the rare case where mainland Chinese authorities arrested people trying to leave the semi-autonomous city, where democracy activists have led the year latest huge protests against the Beijing regime.
Prior to their departure, all faced charges in Hong Kong related to anti-government protests, including riots and the violation of a national security law that Beijing imposed on the city in June, officials said. Hong Kong.
Detainees Quinn Moon and Tang Kai-yin have been charged with “organizing other people to secretly cross the border” and face up to seven years in prison. The other 10, two of whom were under 18 at the time of their arrest, have been charged with “secret border crossing” and face up to a year in prison.
Chinese authorities have said the two underage suspects will undergo private hearings on a separate date.
Families of the defendants have requested that the hearing in Shenzhen court be broadcast live, after being unable to attend due to the short notice of the trial and COVID-19 requirements.
They were not informed of the trial date until Friday, when their lawyers were not allowed to meet with the detainees.
Instead, the authorities appointed legal representation approved by the state.
A “ remote ” chance for a fair trial
In a statement ahead of Monday’s trial, Amnesty International called for fair and public hearings.
“We fear that the chance for these young Hong Kong people to get a fair trial in China is minimal given that they have so far been deprived of their basic rights, including the right to defend themselves through legal representation of their choice, ”Amnesty International’s Hong Kong program said. Director Lam Cho Ming.
“Their families have been repeatedly denied direct access to them, and several mainland lawyers who attempted to represent them at the request of the families have been threatened by Chinese authorities to force them to drop the case.
A spokesperson for the US consulate general in Guangzhou called on Monday for their “immediate release.”
“Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny,” the spokesperson told AFP news agency. “Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere.”
The families, in a joint letter over the weekend, said they “strongly condemned” the authorities’ decision to hold the “de facto secret” trial at the Yantian District People’s Court.
“We urge governments to send embassy staff to the hearing to ensure a proper and fair trial in Shenzhen courts,” they said.
The Hong Kong government has said the defendants should be brought to justice on the mainland before returning to Hong Kong, where they should be further investigated for alleged crimes related to the protests.
China has a habit of bringing dissidents to justice around Christmas and New Years to avoid Western control.
“Obviously (the Chinese authorities) are rushing over the Christmas period in order to play down international reactions,” Beatrice Li, sister of detainee Andy Li, told Reuters news agency on Friday.
Unlike Hong Kong, where the judiciary is independent and based on common law, the courts in mainland China are loyal to the Communist Party and do not challenge the party’s charges. Conviction rates are close to 100%.
The former British colony of Hong Kong regained Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee of freedoms that are not enjoyed on the continent according to a “one country, two systems” formula agreed by Beijing and London.
Pro-democracy protesters believe these freedoms are being eroded by Beijing, especially with the imposition of the National Security Law.
China refuses to restrict rights and freedoms and says legislation was necessary to ensure law and order.