Judicial authorities in mainland China have officially accused 12 Hong Kong fugitives captured at sea while fleeing to Taiwan of illegal border crossing or organising such an act.
The People’s Procuratorate in Shenzhen’s Yantian district on Wednesday evening said they had approved the arrests of 10 in the group over crossing the national border unlawfully, and two others for planning the offence.
The pair accused of the organising role are a woman wanted by Hong Kong police, and Tang Kai-yin, a 30-year-old salesman who was earlier charged with conspiracy to commit arson with intent. Pro-establishment newspaper Sing Tao Daily cited a source on Wednesday as saying that Tang was the driver of the speedboat loaded with the 12.
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Under China’s Criminal Law, people arrested for illegal crossings face imprisonment of not more than a year. But those convicted of organising others to do so can be sentenced to as many as seven years in jail. For those with a principal role in operating a syndicate for illegal border crossings, or who violently resist law enforcement, the penalty can be life in prison.
Wednesday was the deadline for mainland judicial authorities to approve an arrest of the group, described as “strongly suspected of committing crimes from place to place, repeatedly, or in a gang”, marking the end of a 37-day time frame under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law.
A mainland lawyer appointed by the family of one of the suspects said the Chinese authorities were required to inform families within 24 hours of that decision being made. If conditions are met, suspects can be released on bail or placed under residential confinement in accordance with the law.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the lawyer believed the investigation would last up to seven months, and he would continue to ask for direct access to the suspects.
Please don’t rub salt into our wounds. Our demands have been very basic. We want our family members to meet our lawyers
The wife of detainee Wong Wai-yin
The families of the 12 said they were “shocked and concerned” about the decision and urged the authorities to stop the “incommunicado detention” immediately and allow family members and their appointed lawyers to visit them. They maintained they would refuse to have lawyers assigned to them.
“The families fear [the arrestees] have already been subjected to inhumane treatment for more than 30 days, and that they might have been forced to make confessions by torture and that a secret hearing will be held like other ‘politically sensitive’ cases,” their statement said.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who had been assisting the families, said if the detainees were accused of such serious crimes, then they should be given rights to pick lawyers as early as possible.
Also on Wednesday, families of some of the 12 rallied at Beijing’s liaison office in the city, reiterating ahead of the Mid-Autumn Festival their demands that lawyers they hired be granted access to their loved ones.
The suspects, linked to charges involving last year’s anti-government protests, were captured at sea in a speedboat on August 23. They have been held without charge in a detention centre in neighbouring Shenzhen ever since and barred from meeting lawyers selected by their families.
The announcement by mainland judicial authorities was made hours after four family members of the detainees, accompanied by two opposition politicians, chanted “Reject government-designated lawyers” and “Release our children” at the liaison office.
But they were not allowed to get close to the office, which was heavily guarded by police and large water-filled barriers. The group tearfully expressed their demands in front of reporters and placed mooncakes at the barriers, saying they hoped authorities would deliver the traditional holiday treats to the detainees during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The wife of 29-year-old technician Wong Wai-yin reiterated that she refused to recognise lawyers appointed by Beijing, and worried about the criminal charges the group could face in a jurisdiction where she said forced confessions were common.
“Please don’t rub salt into our wounds. Our demands have been very basic. We want our family members to meet our lawyers. It’s not just about the rights of the 12, but anyone in Hong Kong in the future,” she said. Her husband has been charged in Hong Kong with conspiracy in making explosives.
The group also expressed disappointment with what they said was a cold response from the city government, and requested meetings with Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, as well as security chief John Lee Ka-chiu.
“We have no other way but to keep badgering the officials, as they have done nothing. It’s unacceptable, as even medications cannot be passed to [our family members],” said the mother of Li Tsz-yin, a 29-year-old surveyor who faces charges for rioting and assaulting a police officer.
At a Legislative Council meeting last week, Cheung, the city’s No 2 official, urged opposition lawmakers “not to waste time” on the issue when he was asked to render assistance to the families. Lee had earlier said each of the 12 detainees had been appointed two lawyers and were in good health, insisting that Hong Kong “would not interfere in the law enforcement of other jurisdictions”.
In the petition families submitted on Wednesday, attempts by local officials to legitimise the appointment of Beijing-approved lawyers were dubbed a “blatant lie” and a breach of Hong Kong law.
So far, 10 of the lawyers appointed by the families have been denied access to the suspects at the detention centre in Shenzhen’s Yantian district, and 13 have been pressured by Chinese authorities to drop the cases, leading to six doing just that, according to the letter.
Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary for Administration’s Office and Security Bureau issued a joint statement on Wednesday night, saying that immigration officers would meet the family members as an established arrangement.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong police investigating smugglers who may have helped 12 fugitives arrested at sea
- Families of 12 detained activists take case to Hong Kong police, push for contact with loved ones, release of marine radar data
- Lawyers for 12 Hongkongers captured at sea jointly demand mainland Chinese authorities grant them access
- Hong Kong protests: Carrie Lam says calling 12 detained in Shenzhen ‘democracy activists’ a bid to distract from wanted status
This article 12 Hong Kong fugitives caught at sea while fleeing to Taiwan officially accused by mainland Chinese authorities of illegal border crossing, organising act first appeared on South China Morning Post