Mainland Chinese authorities have prevented lawyers from meeting twelve Hong Kong residents who are being detained in China after they attempted to flee by boat to Taiwan.
The 12 Hongkongers are aged 16 to 33, and were held on suspicion of “illegal immigration” after they tried to escape by speedboat to the democratic island of Taiwan last month.
Hong Kong activist Andy Li – who was arrested earlier this month for alleged national security law violations – was among them, sources told RFA at the time.
Lawyer Lu Siwei, who was recently hired by the family of one of the detainees, told RFA he waited three hours at the Yantian Detention Center in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, before being turned away on two occasions, the last of them on Friday.
Lu said detention centre staff had claimed they were unable to verify that he had been instructed to act for his client.
“It was about verifying my status as an instructed lawyer and the relationship between me and my client,” Lu said. “I told them this has no basis in law.”
“I demanded that they show me the legal basis, but they couldn’t. I think they are deliberately preventing me from meeting with [my client],” he said.
Lu said his client has been accused of organizing the bid to cross an international border illegally, which carries a jail term of two to seven years, compared with just a few months for illegally crossing a border.
“The sentence for crossing a border illegally is only regarded as a crime if there are aggravating circumstances,” Lu said. “Otherwise it would be less than a year, or just administrative detention.”
“But someone organizing an illegal border crossing can get two to seven years,” he said.
But he said the priority for the 12 detainees’ lawyers is to be allowed to meet with their clients in detention, and protect their right to due process.
Attorney Fan Biaowen said he had met with a similar response when hired by the relatives of another detainee to represent his client.
“I am guessing it has something to do with the implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong,” Fan said. “I don’t actually know why they are making such a requirement [of verification of the lawyer’s status].”
“Maybe the charges are under the National Security Law for Hong Kong.”
There are also concerns that the Chinese authorities may be refusing visits from lawyers because they are planning to charge the 12 detainees under that law, their lawyers said.
Rights attorney Ren Quanniu told Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK that he had also been denied access to his client, who is among the 12 aboard the boat caught fleeing to Taiwan.
“They said I can’t prove that the instructions I have came from family members even though I have provided my client’s birth certificate issued in Hong Kong,” Ren, who travelled nearly 1,500 km from central China to Shenzhen to meet with his client Wong Wai-yin, told the station.
The imposition of the National Security Law for Hong Kong on July 01 launched a crackdown on peaceful dissent and criticism of the government in schools and colleges, in the media and on the streets.
The law bans secessionist, subversive, and terrorist words and deeds, as well as collusion with foreign forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, charges which carry a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life. (Source: RFA)