Ten Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who tried to flee by sea to Taiwan were sentenced to 7 months to 3 years in prison, a mainland Chinese court said . Six months after a draconian law on national security was adopted in Hong Kong, its process was representative of Beijing’s growing influence in the former British colony, which became a semi-autonomous Chinese territory in 1997.
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. Two of them were sentenced to three and two years in prison respectively for their role as “organizers of the illegal border crossing,” the Shenzhen court where 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 process, the court said in a statement highlighted by the AFP news agency . 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.