The families of 12 Hong Kong protesters detained by the China Coast Guard on Aug. 23 as they tried to flee to the democratic island of Taiwan by speedboat say the court that tried the detainees on Monday has told them sentencing will take place on Wednesday.
A concern group representing the families said they had been informed by lawyers that the Yantian District People’s Court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen would announce its sentencing decisions at 10.30 a.m. local time on Wednesday.
But the Save 12 Hong Kong Youths concern group said it had been unable to verify this information with the court itself.
The lawyers currently acting for the detainees were appointed by the authorities after lawyers hired by the families were repeatedly denied access to their clients and to case files.
According to the government-appointed lawyers, the 10 detainees pleaded guilty to charges linked to illegally crossing a border during Monday’s trial.
The unconfirmed report came as U.K. foreign secretary Dominic Raab hit out at the way the trial was conducted, with the families of the detainees reporting that they had been unable to attend because they were informed too late of the trial date to get through a 14-day mandatory quarantine period after crossing into mainland China.
Raab said he was deeply concerned over the trial, which said was effectively held “in secret” given the lack of information passed to the defendants’ families.
“We are deeply concerned that members of the [Hong Kong] 12 were tried in secret today, having been given just three days’ notice of their trial,” Raab said.
Consular staff denied entry
He said British consular staff had also been denied entry to the court.
“The Shenzhen 12 have not had access to lawyers of their choosing, raising further serious questions about access to legal counsel in mainland China,” he said.
Ten out of the 12 stood trial at the Yantian District People’s Court on Monday: activists Quinn Moon and Tang Kai-yin 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 by 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 Save 12 Hong Kong Youths concern group said that relatives, 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.
Hopes for lenient treatment
A lawyer originally hired by family members to represent one of the detainees said it is quite likely that the detainees had pleaded guilty.
“I should have thought they could have handed down the sentences [on the same day],” he said. “It is quite likely that 10 of them have compromised and pleaded guilty.”
“It is also likely that none of them will appeal,” he said.
Pleading guilty, cooperating with police investigators, and making video “confessions” to be aired on state TV are typically regarded in China’s judicial system as grounds for more lenient treatment, including sentencing to time already served.
“It’s pretty much a done deal … they could still wind up on TV,” the lawyer said. “Maybe after that happens, some of them will get to go home in time for Lunar New Year.”
“The Chinese authorities are playing this more for public opinion and less for the legal [deterrent] effect,” the lawyer said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Yantian District People’s Court on Tuesday declined to give further details or confirm the initial reports regarding the timing of the sentencing.
“The timing for the sentencing has been announced in accordance with the law,” the employee said. “If family members want to attend, they can do so in accordance with relevant regulations.”
Politically sensitive case
The brother of one of the detainees, Tang Kai-yin, told Hong Kong government broadcaster RTHK that the families had received messages telling them that the detainees had been “well-behaved” and pleaded guilty.
He said the families were baffled by a claim made in a court statement that relatives of the defendants were present at the trial, as none of the families had been able to identify anyone who had attended.
“We asked [them] … and none of them knew who that was, so we’re baffled by this,” the man said.
Beijing-based criminal lawyer Zhang Dongshuo said the case is regarded by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as politically sensitive.
“The court may wish to make sure all of the arrangements and case-handling is in accordance with [Beijing’s wishes], especially as the case also involves two suspects under the age of 18,” Zhang said.
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.