Ten out of 12 Hong Kong protesters arrested as they tried to flee the city to the democratic island of Taiwan stood trial at a court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Monday, on charges linked to illegal border crossings.
“On the afternoon of Dec. 28, this court held a public trial in accordance with the law in the illegal border crossing case,” the Yantian District People’s Court said in a statement posted to its official account on the Weibo social media platform.
Hong Kong activists Quinn Moon and Tang Kai-yin stood trial for “organizing an illegal border crossing,” which carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment, and Li Tsz-yin; Andy Li; Wong Wai-yin, and Kok Tsz-lun were tried for “illegally crossing a border.”
Two other detainees were also prosecuted the Yantian District People’s Procuratorate, but their trials were to be held behind closed doors because they are under 18, the procuratorate said earlier this month.
“The court heard the case from public prosecutor from the procuratorate, and the arguments for the defense from the defendants’ lawyers,” the court statement said. “Sentencing will take place at a later date.”
It said the trial was attended by People’s Congress deputies from Hong Kong and Shenzhen, members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), journalists and relatives of the defendants.
However, the families of the defendants told Hong Kong media that they hadn’t been given enough notice to attend the trial, taking into account a 14-day quarantine requirement for residents of Hong Kong traveling to the rest of China.
Families, lawyers, journalists and diplomats refused access
The Save 12 Hong Kong Youths concern group said that relatives families, lawyers, journalists and diplomats were all refused access to the trial on the grounds that the courtroom was full, making the hearing effectively a secret trial, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
“Regardless of the future development of the case, the basic rights of the 12 Hongkongers have already been deprived by the Chinese authority,” it quoted the group as saying.”
“The unfair court proceedings is evidence of an obvious, draconian political persecution,” it said, and called for the early return of the detainees to Hong Kong.
Security was tight outside the court buildings, with a wall of two-meter high traffic barriers surrounding the approach to the gates.
Police vehicles and armored cars patrolled the district, with the court gates under heavy police guard.
One family member of a defendant said they had received a notification of a video link from a defense attorney appointed by the authorities, but that the trial wasn’t displayed on the court’s live, online timetable.
Several family members told a news conference in Hong Kong that they had received no prior warning that the trial would take place when it did, however.
“We were supposed to get prior approval from the judge to attend the trial, but the officially appointed lawyer was evasive, and wouldn’t even tell us the name of the judge,” one relative said.
“I haven’t seen my son for so long, and I hope that this won’t go on much longer.”
‘The seats are now full’
An employee who answered the phone at the Yantian District People’s Court told RFA: “The trial was conducted publicly in accordance with the law, but there was no live broadcast of the trial.”
“It should be possible to attend, but all of the seats are now full.”
A defense attorney hired by one of the families but denied permission to visit his client in the Yantian Detention Center where the 12 are being held said the whole process was a “show trial.”
“The entire trial was completely for show, with no cross-examination and no real defense,” the lawyer said, citing foreign officials who had attended.
“They used a high quality show trial to give the impression they wanted to give while cutting off the flow of information,” the lawyer said.
He said the defendants accused of illegally crossing a border would likely receive light sentences compared with Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon.
Beijing-based criminal lawyer Zhang Dongshuo said the two juvenile suspects’ fates were less clear, as they could be held under supervision in the absence of any judicial cooperation mechanism for their return to Hong Kong.
A U.S. Embassy spokesperson called for the detainees’ immediate release.
“Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny,” the spokesperson said. “Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the U.S. of interfering in China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty.
The South China Morning Post reported Sunday that Hong Kong police are searching for about 30 people who are overseas on suspicion of national security law violations, including self-exiled former lawmakers Ted Hui and Sixtus Baggio Leung.
The English-language daily quoted a police insider as saying that “most of them are now in Europe, the United States and Taiwan,” and are a mix of overseas-based activists and those who had legally emigrated before or after the enactment of the national security law on June 30.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.