Pro-democracy Hong Kong politicians yesterday staged a brief protest in the territory’s legislature to call for the release of 12 activists arrested by Chinese authorities at sea last month as they tried to flee to Taiwan by boat.
Chinese police have said that the 12, who are all suspected of crimes in Hong Kong related to anti-government protests that erupted last year, were suspected of illegal border crossing. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called them “separatists.”
Their detention in Shenzhen has become a lightning rod for criticism of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government.
About a dozen opposition members of the territory’s legislature surrounded Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung (張建宗) before a meeting on mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19, and demanded he meet the detainees’ families and try to bring them back.
“Release the 12 Hong Kongers immediately,” the politicians shouted, while holding up placards with the same message and delaying the start of the session.
The failed bid by the 12 to flee to Taiwan has highlighted fears that many people feel in the semi-autonomous territory about what they see as China’s determination to end any push for greater democracy in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s government has said that it cannot interfere on their behalf and they must face legal proceedings in China before they can come home, although it says it is willing to provide “feasible” assistance to their families.
“They were fugitives who committed serious crimes, skipped bail, violated laws in mainland waters,” Cheung said before leaving the room.
“The immigration department and security bureau are the professional department to handle the matters. Senior management will continue to pay attention to the incident,” he added.
Mainland authorities have said the legitimate rights of the 12 were being protected according to the law.
In other news, a student arrested in Hong Kong on suspicion of selling weapons online faces charges of inciting secession under national security legislation imposed on the territory by Beijing three months ago, a senior police officer said yesterday.
Police on Thursday arrested the 23-year-old man and his mother, 49, on suspicion of selling pepper-ball guns, knives and other weapons, and on further investigation found online posts promoting the use of violence to win independence from China, police Senior Superintendent Steve Li (李桂華) said.
Li did not give the names of the suspects.
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