Five Hong Kong protesters who reportedly fled to Taiwan by boat six months ago have arrived in the United States and intend to seek asylum, according to an activist group.
The activists, all under the age of 30, faced protest-related arrests or charges in Hong Kong, and escaped the city by boat in July last year, the Washington, DC-based Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC) said.
They are the latest protesters to seek sanctuary in the West after Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in June that makes it easier to crack down on dissent in the Chinese city. In recent weeks, police have arrested dozens of pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers in Hong Kong.
The HKDC statement didn't confirm that the five that are now in the US had been in Taiwan - a popular destination for protesters, but which closed its borders last year because of the pandemic.
Simon Chu, managing director of the nonprofit HKDC, said he had welcomed the five to the US last week after a "perilous journey to freedom".
"The dangerous trip made by these activists illustrates how it remains difficult for Hong Kongers to seek safe harbour in the US and that options for safe passage are limited," he said.
"Their desperate effort exemplifies the rapidly deteriorating human rights condition and growing humanitarian crisis Hong Kong is in right now," he said.
Media in Taiwan had reported last year that the five had been intercepted by the Taiwanese coast guard as they tried to flee to the self-ruled island in late July.
Officials in Taiwan have repeatedly declined to comment on the case.
Activists say the five were held incommunicado in Taiwan as negotiations were carried out to help them leave for the US.
In August, another group of Hongkongers attempted to flee to Taiwan in a speedboat, but were caught by the Chinese coastguard.
Ten of the 12 Hongkongers were sentenced to up to three years in prison for organising and participating in an illegal border crossing last month after a "secret" trial that was condemned by Britain and others.