Eastern Times,International Desk : The twelve protesters who were caught fleeing Hong Kong in a speedboat last month by Chinese authorities have been denied bail and held without charge in a Chinese detention centre in Yantian.
Yantian is a district of the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Additionally, while they have been barred from meeting rights lawyers appointed by their relatives, permission has also not been granted to call their families.
Soon, they will now bear the brunt of criminal charges for their escape and they are expected to do so in the mainland’s murky justice system.
“This is what we had been fearing when we protested against the extradition bill, that people from Hong Kong could get sent over to China into a totally different system that is well known for not following their own laws,” said Beatrice Li, sister of Andy Li, an activist who was one of the passengers on the boat.
As reported by Hong Kong government, the twelve, held in Yantian detention centre, are expected to be formally arrested by prosecutors in Shenzhen in the coming days on charges of crossing the border illegally.
The immigration offense holds a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison or seven years if they are found guilty in organising such an effort.
As many as 200 Hong Kong protesters are believed to have fled to Taiwan to apply for political asylum.
The group set off early on August 23 from Po Toi O, a fishing village, the Hong Kong government stated Saturday, as conveyed by the mainland police. The Chinese Coast Guard intercepted the boat off the coast at around 9 am, about 45 miles southeast of Hong Kong Island.
As per, the Hong Kong authorities, most of the twelve detainees had been facing serious charges related to explosives, arson, rioting, assaulting police and weapons possession.
Now their relatives are concerned about the abuses they might face on the mainland, where forced confessions and other violations are common.
An official at China’s foreign ministry has described the detainees as separatists.
Unlike Hong Kong, where the police cannot keep a person in custody for more than 48 hours without charge in general, detainees on the mainland are held for long periods without bail or access to lawyers and relatives, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Also, detainees have the right to choose their lawyers in Hong Kong.
Liang Xiaojun, a human rights lawyer in China hired by relatives of Li to represent him, said that the police at the Yantian detention center told him and three other lawyers chosen by the detainees’ families that their clients had already chosen their attorneys.
Defendants are sometimes forced by the police in China to accept state-selected lawyers in order to prevent rights lawyers from presenting a robust defense in court.
Li was arrested last month on suspicion of being “in collusion with a foreign country or with external elements” under the national security law. He also faces possible charges of possessing illegal ammunition, apparently related to his collection of tear gas cartridges, rubber bullets and other materials used by the police.
Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists have pressured Hong Kong officials to push the Chinese government for the detainees’ return.
Some activists have tried to organise protests in support of the twelve on Thursday which is China’s National Day holiday.
Further, Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong said Tuesday that demands for their release were “absurd,” calling the detainees’ supporters “black hands behind the calamities of Hong Kong.”
The secrecy surrounding the detentions adds to concerns that the broader clampdown on the pro-democracy movement this year will fundamentally change the city’s freewheeling political culture.
Expressing concern about the detention of the protesters on the boat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on the authorities to ensure due process for the group, whom he called “Hong Kong democracy activists.”
On the other hand, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the twelve were “not democratic activists, but elements attempting to separate” Hong Kong from China.
Furious by such a statement, the protestors’ family members responded that their relatives were not separatists, and that they deserved a fair trial regardless of their political beliefs.
Tsz-yin, a surveyor who was on the boat, said that they wanted a fair and just society and not demanded independence