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This Wednesday, China sentenced ten of the twelve young pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong arrested last August when they tried to escape on a boat bound for Taiwan to terms of between seven months and three years in prison . The sentence comes two days after journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday for defying the government with its coverage of the pandemic.

Twelve men, the youngest 16 years old, were detained at sea by the Chinese coast guard 70 kilometers from Hong Kong on August 23, and were later handed over to the police in Shenzhen, in the south of the country. The defendants were trying to reach Taiwan, a rival island of mainland China. According to the Intra News , two of them were sentenced respectively to three and two years in prison for their role as “organizers in the illegal border crossing,” the Shenzhen court in which they were being tried announced in a statement.

Eight other men, mere passengers, were sentenced to 7 months in prison for illegally crossing the border, while the maximum penalty for this crime is one year. The ten men “acknowledged their guilt” during the trial, the court said in a statement. On the other hand, two minors who were on board the ship were to be handed over to the Hong Kong authorities this Wednesday, December 30, no charges were upheld against them.

The European Union (EU) called on China to release 12 Hong Kong activists detained when they tried to leave the territory by boat, a day after the start of a trial against 10 of them. In an official note, the office of the High Representative, Josep Borrell, called for the “immediate release of these 12 people and their speedy return to Hong Kong.” According to the note, the right of these people to “a fair trial and due process, according to international human rights law, has not been respected.”

The EU’s call comes as the bloc and China are discussing a comprehensive investment agreement, which has been negotiated over seven years. On December 29, the head of European diplomacy also asked China for the immediate release of journalist Zhang Zhan, sentenced to four years in prison for reporting online about the coronavirus. The United States joined the petition, accusing the Asian country of hiding the truth about the pandemic that has left more than 1.8 million dead and another 81 million infected in the world.

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