A court in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Wednesday handed down jail terms of up to three years to 10 of the 12 Hong Kong protesters detained on Aug. 23 as they tried to flee a national security crackdown in the city, on charges linked to “illegally crossing a border.”
The Yantian District People’s Court in Guangdong’s Shenzhen city sentenced Tang Kai-yin to three years’ imprisonment for “organizing others to cross a border illegally,” while fellow activist Quinn Moon was jailed for two years on the same charge, the court said in an announcement on its Weibo account.
“On the morning of December 30th, our court publicly sentenced Deng Jiran [Tang Kai-yin] and nine others,” the statement said.
“Deng Jiran was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for “organizing others to cross the border illegally” and fined 20,000 yuan,” it said. “Qiao Yingyu [Quinn Moon] was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 yuan.”
It said fellow defendants Cheng Tsz-ho, Cheung Chun-fu, Li Tsz-yin, Andy Li, Wong Wai-yin, Kok Tsz-Lun, Jim Man-him and Cheung Ming-jyu were each jailed for seven months each for “illegally crossing a border” and fined 10,000 yuan each.
“The [eight above defendants] were accomplices in jointly committed crimes, and were therefore given lighter sentences,” the court said.
The sentences mean that even those handed more lenient sentences won’t get out of jail until March.
Two minors released
The remaining two detainees — Liu Tsz-man and Hoang Lam-fuk — were released after the authorities said they wouldn’t pursue charges against them, as they were under 18 at the time of their detention.
Hong Kong police confirmed that the pair had arrived back in Hong Kong and were being held in Tin Shui Wai police station at noon local time.
The two are still subject to mandatory quarantine at a facility run by Hong Kong’s correctional services department. They were able to call their families from the police station, and will be able to receive family visits, a police spokesperson said.
Liu could still face charges of arson and skipping bail, while Hoang faces the same charges as well as a charge of “possession of an offensive weapon” linked to last year’s protest movement.
The European Union hit out at the defendants’ trial, saying they were denied access to lawyers of their own choosing, and that the trial was effectively behind closed doors.
“The [Dec. 28] trial was not held in open court,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement. “Diplomatic representatives were unable to attend the court proceedings and the attendance of relatives of the detained was impeded.”
“The European Union calls for the immediate release of these 12 individuals and their swift return to Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said.
Risk of torture in jail
The U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch said the sentencing of the detainees “paves the way for more Hong Kong pro-democracy activists to be extradited and tried in the mainland” under an ongoing crackdown on dissent under China’s draconian national security law.
“Today’s sentencing is a heart-breaking milestone in the campaign to free the 12 Hong Kong youths who have already been detained in Shenzhen for four months,” Hong Kong Watch chief executive Benedict Rogers said in a statement on its website.
“There is a risk that the ten activists who have been charged could be tortured or face ill-treatment in jail,” he warned, adding that the 10 who remain in Shenzhen have been held for four months without access to lawyers of their choosing, prescribed medication, or direct contact with their families.
“We urge the international community to continue to push for their release and return to Hong Kong and for coordinated and firm action against the continued deterioration of Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedoms, and way of life,” Rogers said.
Most of the detainees will still face charges when they eventually return to Hong Kong.
“All they did was to fight for freedom and democracy for Hong Kong,” Hong Kong political commentator Johnny Lau said. “We need to keep in our minds the reason they fled Hong Kong in the first place.”
“Many of them had already been arrested on criminal charges … but yet the worst perpetrators of violence [during the protest movement] were the authorities themselves,” he said.
The 12 activists were initially detained by the China Coast Guard on Aug. 23. They were aged 16 to 33 at the time, and were trying to flee to Taiwan by speedboat after being charged with crimes linked to months of mass popular protest that rocked Hong Kong last year.
While the Hong Kong government denied any involvement in the operation at the time, flight data has since emerged showing that the government had sent a fixed-wing aircraft to track the speedboat carrying the 12 activists.
Hong Kong police commissioner Chris Tang claimed on Aug. 27 that the 12 weren’t detained as part of a cross-border operation, adding that they hadn’t contacted the Chinese authorities about the incident until Aug. 28.
Police later cited a “reply” from Guangdong police on Sept. 25 confirming the seizure of a speedboat “suspected of illegally crossing the border.”
But data obtained from the flight tracking website FlightAware showed that two Hong Kong government aircraft, the fixed-wing plane B-LVB and and the H175 Cheetah helicopter B-LVH, flew around, and to and from the area where the activists were arrested on the morning of Aug. 23.
Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.