By Spy Uganda Correspondent
The U.S. embassy in China has called upon Chinese authorities to immediately release 12 fugitives from Hong Kong and permit them to depart the country on Monday, according to a statement released on Monday.
“Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny. Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” the statement said.
Ten of the twelve Hong Kongers, who were detained in Chinese waters while fleeing to Taiwan, will go on trial at the Yantian District People’s Court in Shenzhen on Monday afternoon.
Chinese authorities took them into custody after their boat was intercepted on August 23.
At least two of the group face up to seven years in jail for organising the attempted escape from a city where democracy activists last year led massive protests against Beijing’s rule.
Some of the group were already facing prosecution in Hong Kong, where China has imposed a draconian national security law that has stamped out the city’s protest movement.
Urging their “immediate release”, the US embassy spokesperson at the US consulate-general in Guangzhou said, “Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere.”
Families of the accused — the youngest of whom is just 16 — have 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 requirements.
They were only notified of the trial date on Friday, while their lawyers have been barred from meeting with the detainees. Authorities instead have appointed state-approved legal representation.
In a joint letter over the weekend, the families said they “strongly condemn” the authorities’ decision to hold the trial in “de facto secret” at Yantian District People’s Court.
“We urge governments to send embassy personnel to the hearing to guarantee a proper and fair trial by the courts in Shenzhen,” they said, noting that those detained include British, Portuguese and Vietnamese nationals.
The security law that now blankets Hong Kong gives authorities sweeping powers of prosecution for acts deemed terrorism, succession, subversion or collusion with foreign entities.
Beijing says the new security law was needed to restore peace and stability but critics have condemned it as a fatal attack on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Amnesty International said there was little chance the group would receive a fair trial.
“They have so far been deprived of their basic rights, including the right to defend themselves through legal representation of their own choosing,” Amnesty Hong Kong’s Programme Manager Lam Cho Ming said in a statement.
Eight of the group are accused of an illegal border crossing, while two are suspected of organising for others to cross the border whereas two minors face non-public hearings.
Since Beijing’s imposition of the security law in June, Taiwan has emerged as a sanctuary for Hong Kong activists — quietly turning a blind eye to residents turning up without proper visas or paperwork.