Hong Kong protests: China is formally suing activists who tried to flee to Taiwan by boat

The indictment took their cases a step closer to court, although no date has been set for their hearings to begin.

A court in the southern city of Shenzhen, where the 12 were held, said in a statement Wednesday that two members of the group had been charged with organizing illegal border crossings, while eight were charged with illegal border crossing. The remaining two, both minors, will be heard behind closed doors and “decisions will be made by law,” the statement said.

Under Chinese criminal law, those convicted of organizing illegal border crossings can face two to seven years in prison – and in serious cases, even life imprisonment. Crossing the border illegally can lead to up to one year in prison. According to legal observers, China’s judicial system has a conviction rate of about 99%.

The 12 activists – most of whom were on bail or were charged in Hong Kong in connection with last year’s anti-government protests – boarded a speedboat in the small fishing village of Po Toi O on August 23, hoping others who had fled. to the self-governing island of Taiwan, about 700 kilometers (440 miles) away.

Shortly after they crossed the sea border between Hong Kong and mainland China, their boat was stopped by a coast guard ship.

They have since been held in mainland China, while their families have lobbied desperately for their return, saying the 12 has been denied access to lawyers and assaulted while in Chinese custody.

The mainland authorities have said they will “protect the legitimate rights of the suspects in accordance with the law” and made available their government-appointed lawyers.

Following the court’s announcement on Wednesday, the relatives of the 12 Hong Kongers issued their own statement saying they would like to attend the hearings. But they fear they will not be able to arrive in time when the trial dates are announced due to the 14-day quarantine requirement to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

In the statement, the family members also argued against the scheme of government-appointed lawyers.

The Hong Kong government has been accused of working with China to track and capture refugees fleeing to Taiwan

The families cannot rely on the ‘government-appointed lawyers’ to protect the interests of the twelve during the trial, and they fear that the ‘government-appointed lawyers’ will obey the orders of the government and against the interests of the twelve will perform. , ”the statement said.

Chinese courts – along with prosecutors and police – are overseen by the powerful Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party and its local branches.

Fears over China’s judicial system, and its possible reach to Hong Kong, sparked protests last year that sparked months of unrest against the government in the semi-autonomous city.

This year, as protests started to pick up after a coronavirus-forced hiatus, the Chinese government imposed a national security law on Hong Kong criminalizing sedition, secession and subversion.

The law, which the government says is necessary to restore order, has led several prominent activists to flee abroad.

Eric Cheung contributed to this report.