A Chinese court on Wednesday sentenced 10 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists from seven months to three years in prison on charges stemming from their attempt to escape Communist authorities by fleeing the former British colony for Taiwan.
The Yantian District People’s Court in Shenzhen handed down the sentences following a two-day trial during which the defendants allegedly pleaded guilty to charges of illegal border crossing, state-run Global Times reported.
Two defendants were convicted with organizing the border crossing and were handed three- and two-year sentences while the remaining eight were sentenced to seven months in prison. Two minors who were also charged were to be handed over to Hong Kong police.
The 12 activists, some facing charges connected to pro-democracy protests that rocked the former British colony, were arrested on Aug. 23 as they were attempting to flee Hong Kong by speedboat for Taiwan.
The self-governing island had offered refuge to Hong Kongers as China on the last day of June instituted a widely condemned draconian national security law that criminalized acts seen as undermining China’s national security with stiff prison terms.
The sentences administered on Wednesday are expected to attract criticism from human rights organizations and Western nations, including the United States, which has called on the People’s Republic of China to release the detainees known as the Hong Kong 12.
“The Hong Kong 12 should be released immediately,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a December 19 tweet. “Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny. Communist China today is turning Hong Kong into the East Berlin of yesteryear, actively preventing its own people from seeking freedom elsewhere.”
Britain on Monday also voiced concerns about the fate of the Hong Kong 12, stating they were “tried in secret, having been given just three days’ notice of their trial.”
Dominic Raab, Britain’s foreign affairs secretary, said in a statement that British officials were denied entry to the proceedings.
Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, warned the sentences handed down on Wednesday put more youth at risk of torture and jail terms decided by unfair trials.
“These sentences meted out after an unfair trial lay bare the dangers faced by anybody who finds themselves tried under the Chinese criminal system,” Mishra said in a statement.
Mishra said the jailed Hong Kongers are now at risk of torture and other ill-treatment and are proof that Chinese authorities will not give political activists a fair trial as diplomats, journalists and family members were not allowed to observe the closed-door hearing.
“The Hong Kong youths were deprived of the right to defend themselves through legal representation of their own choosing,” Mishra said. “Multiple mainland lawyers attempted to represent them at the families’ request but they have been threatened by the Chinese authorities to force them to drop the cases.”
The 10 jailed are the latest activists to be sentenced in China, which has imprisoned several high-profile demonstrators in the past few months.
Earlier this month, prominent pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow an Ivan lam were sentenced to 13 and a half months, seven months and 10 months in prison, respectively, for their involvement in the demonstrations that began in 2019 in protest of a law that would allow for the extradition of some fugitives in Hong Kong to be sent to be tried on the mainland.