China begins trial of 10 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who attempted to flee to Taiwan

China has started the trials of 10 of the 12 Hong Kong nationals and pro-Democracy activists for attempting to flee to Taiwan by speedboat. The activists face charges of illegally crossing the border, while two face additional charges of organizing the escape attempt, according to an indictment issued in Shenzhen where the trial is taking place.

Chinese authorities have formally indicted 10 of the 12 activists arrested in August while attempting to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan by boat. The remaining two members of the group are minors and Chinese authorities said there would be a closed-door hearing at a later date for them.

The 12 people, aged 16 to 33, were intercepted by the Guangdong coast guard in the early hours of 23 August while traveling by speedboat off the coast of Hong Kong. The pro-democracy activists were all facing protest-related charges in Hong Kong and were attempting to reach Taiwan. One passenger, Andy Li, has recently been arrested under the national security law.

However, the Chinese authorities did not make their arrest on the mainland public until mid September. It acknowledged the arrest of the 12 when the Shenzhen public security bureau announced the group was being held under “compulsory criminal detention” in accordance with Chinese law for illegally crossing the border. The arrest was not informed to their Hong Kong counterparts too for several days.

The news of their arrest became worldwide news amid apprehension whether the boat was still in Hong Kong waters when it was intercepted. The group came to be known as ‘Hong Kong 12’. Campaigns have been organised in Hong Kong and several cities of the world to save the ‘Hong Kong 12’ and bring them back to the island.

Since they were apprehended, the families of the victims have called upon Chinese authorities and world agencies to facilitate their release and better treatment during detention. Relatives of the 12 have said that the accusations against them are politically motivated. Families of some of those charged received telephone calls from their court-appointed lawyers saying trials would begin yesterday, as per local news report. The families had called for the hearing in the Shenzhen court to be broadcast live after they were unable to attend due to the short notice for the trial and COVID-19 quarantine requirements. China did not respond to their requests.

The US has called on China to ensure the rights of those apprehended. Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department Cale Brown said that despite China’s attempts to oppress the pro-democracy activists, the free world is watching and hears them. “Democracy advocates including Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, the #HongKong12, and others are spending this holiday season behind bars. Human rights are unalienable. Despite the PRC’s attempts to oppress these men and women, the free world is watching and hears them”, he tweeted.

China dismissed his statement as interference in China’s “judicial sovereignty.”

China has jailed or denied bail of several high profile activists in recent weeks, including the pro-democracy activist trio of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, and media mogul Jimmy Lai, who has been charged with national security offenses carrying up to life in prison.

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