‘Hong Kong 10’ prison sentences spark international backlash

Pro-democracy activists jailed in Shenzhen for border crossing after trying to flee to Taiwan

Human rights groups have condemned the decision to jail 10 Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners amid a chorus of international indignation against the Chinese government.

The group, who could still face further charges in the former British colony, appeared in a closed court in Shenzhen, which borders the semi-autonomous Special Administrative Region.

They had been held in a mainland prison since their boat was intercepted on August 23 after fleeing Hong Kong, allegedly for the democratic island of Taiwan, the Reuters news agency reported.

“We have to remember that they were locked up in China cut off from the world, their families and lawyers of their choosing, for four months before attending a mock trial where only CCP-approved players were allowed in,” Beatrice Li, the sister of Andy Li, 30, who was among those imprisoned, said, referring to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The facts:

  • All the defendants allegedly pleaded guilty to charges of illegal border crossing during the two-day trial, according to Global Times, the Chinese state-run newspaper.
  • Eight of the defendants, including Li, were sentenced to seven months in jail and a 10,000 yuan or US$1,533 fine.
  • Tang Kai-Yin, 31, and Quinn Moon, 33, were found guilty of organizing an illegal border crossing and sentenced to three years and two years respectively. They were also fined 20,000 yuan and 15,000 yuan.
  • Family-appointed lawyers were denied access to the defendants, while human rights groups and relatives criticized the legal process.
  • Two minors were released without being charged but would now appear in a Hong Kong court at a later date.

What was said: Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, or China’s national legislature, called the sentences “justice” at work. “In any place in the world, suspects who violate the law won’t escape from justice. If Western-led public opinion and some politicians in foreign countries have doubts about that and criticize it, it’s typical double standards. Will they tolerate those who violate the law?,” Tam told Global Times.

Reaction to the news: Yamini Mishra, the Asia-Pacific regional director of Amnesty International, warned the Hong Kong 10 “will be at risk of torture” in prison.”These sentences meted out after an unfair trial lay bare the dangers faced by anybody who finds themselves tried under the Chinese criminal system. The Hong Kong youths were deprived of the right to defend themselves through legal representation of their own choosing,” Mishra said in a statement.

Reaction from Hong Kong: “Today’s sentencing is a heart-breaking milestone in the campaign to free the 12 Hong Kong youths who have already been detained in Shenzhen for four months. There is a risk that the 10 activists who have been charged could be tortured or face ill-treatment in jail,” Benedict Rogers, the chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, a human rights group, said.

Reaction from the United Kingdom: “We are deeply concerned that members of the Shenzhen 12 were tried in secret today, having been given just three days’ notice of their trial. Diplomats from Britain and a number of other countries tried to attend the court proceedings but were denied entry. We expect China to uphold the rule of law and conduct trials in a fair and transparent manner, consistent with the basic requirements of international human rights law,” Dominic Raab, the British Foreign Secretary, said in a statement.

Reaction from the United States: “The Hong Kong 12 should be released immediately. Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny. Communist China today is turning Hong Kong into the East Berlin of yesteryear, actively preventing its own people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on December 19.

China Factor comment: China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has intensified with leading activists, such as Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, languishing in prison. Between June 2019 to the end of October 2020, more than 10,000 city residents have been arrested, and more than 2,300 have been charged with protest-related offenses, according to Hong Kong Watch. The only crime they have committed was to campaign for the basic freedom to elect all members of the local legislature, including the chief executive or de facto head of the government body. Instead, they have witnessed the death of the city’s “special status” agreed by the UK and China’s ruling Communist Party government before the handover to end British rule in 1997. It has been replaced by a draconian national security law imposed by Beijing and the demise of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy.