Relatives of 12 Hong Kong democracy advocates detained in China yesterday said that letters from their loved ones praising their treatment and urging their families to stay quiet about their plight were likely written under duress.
The handwritten letters from seven of the detainees are the first time that the families have heard directly from the group since they were arrested by the Chinese coast guard in late August trying to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan by speedboat.
In a statement, family members said that the letters warned relatives against speaking to the media and seemed to adhere to a template.
“There were many letters that directly ‘responded’ to the doubts of the outside world about China,” the statement said. “It is doubtful that they wrote the letter out of their own free will.”
Most of those on board the vessel were being prosecuted in Hong Kong for crimes linked to last year’s pro-democracy protests.
They have since disappeared into China’s party-controlled legal system on immigration charges, where a conviction is all but guaranteed for those who go to trial.
The letters were passed by lawyers appointed by the Chinese government after family-appointed lawyers were denied access to the detainees, a common move by authorities for sensitive or political cases.
Four of the letters were provided to the media by “The 12 Hong Kongers Concern Group,” which has been helping the families of those detained.
“I live very well here. Don’t worry about me. I’m very healthy and I’m full from three meals every day,” one letter from detainee Cheng Tsz-ho (鄭子豪), dated Oct. 21, read.
“I sleep well, eat well and rest well here... The [staff] of the detention center are very kind,” a letter from Tang Kai-yin, dated three days later, read.
Forced confessions, torture and lengthy detentions without communication with the outside world have been well-documented inside China’s legal system.
Hong Kong maintains an independent legal system, but Beijing has been asserting increased control over the territory since last year’s pro-democracy protests.
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