Hong Kong police said they have arrested nine people on suspicion of providing aid to a group of 12 who tried to flee by boat to Taiwan in August but were intercepted by mainland Chinese authorities.
A police official said the nine, including four men and five women were taken into custody for “assisting offenders”.
“Their roles include ownership of the boat, financial backing, providing accommodation before the trip, transportation to the pier and arranging their lives after arriving in Taiwan,” a police spokesperson told reporters.
Some of the nine have previously been arrested for participating in the massive protests that threw the financial hub into turmoil last year.
China’s coast guard intercepted the boat transporting the 12 Hongkongers and their plight grabbed international attention.
The group is now being detained in China’s southern city of Shenzhen, accused of crimes tied to anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year.
Human rights groups have raised concern for the 12 as their families said they were denied access to independent lawyers, and aired suspicion that Hong Kong authorities helped in their arrests.
Hong Kong police official, Hochun-Tung, dismissed accusations that police in the city played a role in the arrests of the 12.
“The arrests on the mainland had nothing to do with the Hong Kong police,” Ho added.
Police also seized HK$500,000 in cash, computers, mobile phones, and documents related to the purchase of a boat.
People began fleeing Hong Kong for self-ruled Taiwan from the early months of the protests, most of them legally, by air, but some by fishing boat, activists in Taipei who helped Hong Kong citizens get visas have told Reuters.
Hong Kong authorities have said those detained are to be represented by mainland lawyers of their choice, albeit from a list provided by Chinese authorities.
Their families have been offered “needed and feasible” assistance, which will continue, the authorities have said. (Source: The Guardian)