The trial for 10 pro-democracy activists accused of attempting to flee Hong Kong to Taiwan by boat during a government crackdown on dissent has begun on Monday (Dec. 28) as their relatives appealed for a swift decision on their case.
Chinese officials, who have described the group as separatists, said the other two accused would have a separate hearing as they are minors.
The 12 Hong Kong citizens have been held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison since they were detained for the last four months.
Chinese coast guard intercepted the 11 males and one female at sea on Aug 23. The youngest is 16.
The ‘Hong Kong 12’, detained in Shenzhen, a city on the border with Hong Kong, faced charges that include illegal border crossing after their boat was intercepted allegedly en route to Taiwan.
Pro-democracy activists began fleeing Hong Kong for democratic Taiwan from the early months of the protests last year, most of them legally by air, but some by boat, activists in Taipei have told Reuters.
Andy Li, one of the detainees, is facing charges related to a national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June for which some offences carry a sentence of up to life in jail.
The charges of illegal border crossing and organising an illicit border crossing carry a sentence of up to seven years in jail, mainland authorities said.
A Reuters reporter was not allowed into the court, nor were diplomats. A concern group supporting the families of those detained said none of the defendants’ relatives attended the trial.
At a news conference in Hong Kong, relatives of some of those detained pleaded for transparency.
“I’m begging the courts to quickly give a sentence,” said the mother of Wong Wai-yin, 29, one of the defendants.
“I really want to see my son very much. If you do not give him a sentence, I cannot see him. If you give him a sentence, then I can go see him. All I want is just to see his face once.”
The court said the judgment would be delivered at a later date, without elaborating on a time frame. It was not clear if the plaintiffs made a plea.
The case has attracted much attention in Hong Kong as a rare instance of Chinese authorities arresting people trying to leave the former British colony at a time of growing fears about prospects for its high degree of autonomy after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law in June.
International human rights groups have raised concern over the defendant’s treatment after their families said they were denied access to independent lawyers.
“They try to say it’s an open trial but they also say all the seats are occupied. The family members don’t have the right to attend the trial. That’s absurd,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
“They don’t have the right to appoint their own lawyer. They don’t even know the names of the government-appointed lawyers.”
Diplomats from countries including the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, were denied entry for the hearing after authorities said the court was full.
“We’ve been denied entry. The official explanation given is that the case does not involve any foreign citizens,” one Western envoy told Reuters.
The US Embassy in China urged authorities to release the fugitives and allow them to leave.
“Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny. Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” the embassy said in a statement. (Source: CNA)