Chinese mainland prosecutors moved to prosecute the 12 Hong Kong nationals arrested by the coast guard while trying to flee to democratic Taiwan more than a month ago.
The case of the 12 has become the latest rallying point for critics of Beijing’s rule after it imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong.
The prosecutors have approved the arrests of 12 people on allegations of organising or participating in an illegal border crossing, district prosecutors from the mainland city of Shenzhen said in a statement posted late on Wednesday.
While prosecutors didn’t identify the suspects as being from Hong Kong, they gave surnames for four of them which matched those of detained activists.
The Hong Kong activists were captured Aug. 23 by coast guard authorities from the mainland province of Guangdong as they attempted to flee to democratically ruled Taiwan by speedboat.
They range in age from 16 to 33 and include 11 men and one woman. One member of the group is a Portuguese national.
Mainland authorities provided no information on their welfare or charges against them until late on Wednesday.
Hong Kong’s government said over the weekend that the Yantian branch of the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau was investigating the case.
Before they fled, 10 had been charged separately by Hong Kong authorities and released on bail for their involvement in a wave of historic anti-government protests, including charges of manufacturing or possessing explosives and assaulting policemen.
One was also arrested under the sweeping national security legislation that China imposed on the city in June.
All but one had been barred from leaving Hong Kong before departing for Taiwan, Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee said on Sept. 14.
Family members of some of the detainees petitioned outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong earlier on Wednesday, joined by two opposition politicians, the South China Morning Post reported.
The group chanted slogans including “reject government-designated lawyers” and “release our children,” the newspaper said.
The fate of the 12 activists could further strain tensions over Hong Kong between the United States and China.
The US imposed sanctions on top Hong Kong officials, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, after the security law took effect. US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus tweeted in September that the arrest of the 12 democratic activists served as another example of deteriorating human rights in Hong Kong.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying pushed back, calling the group secessionists.
“They are not democratic activists, but elements attempting to separate Hong Kong from China,” Ms. Hua tweeted. (Source: The Straits Times)