Hong Kong court jails youths who tried to flee to Taiwan by boat

One of 12 Hong Kong activists arrested last year in mainland China for illegal border crossing arrives at Tin Shui Wai Police Station in Hong Kong, China on March 22, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo

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HONG KONG (Reuters) – Seven Hong Kong men who tried to flee Hong Kong by speedboat to escape protest charges were sentenced to between seven and 10 months in prison for “perverting the course of justice”.

The complex legal and diplomatic saga began in August 2020 when the Chinese coast guard arrested 12 pro-democracy protesters on a speedboat bound for Taiwan, and then imprisoned them in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

After spending some time there, all but two of them returned to Hong Kong.

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The verdict came just days after another group of youths, including one, were arrested by a policeman in 2019, during an alleged attempt to flee the city by boat.

Six of the men were imprisoned for 10 months, while Li Tsez-yin, 32, was imprisoned for seven months. Lee is currently serving a 3.5-year prison sentence for rioting and assaulting a policeman.

Defense lawyers had previously argued that the men had already spent time in a mainland prison. But Deputy District Judge Newman Wong said the men “gave the public a sense of contempt for the judiciary and a deliberate challenge to the legal system”.

Link to the pro-democracy movement

They all faced charges linked to an anti-government and pro-democracy protest movement that implicated Hong Kong in 2019. Many of those convicted on Friday still face separate criminal proceedings that could lead to longer prison sentences.

The boat incident raised tension between the United States and China at the time, with the State Department saying it was deeply concerned about the case, and detainees being denied access to lawyers of their choice.

The twelve were held incommunicado in China for months, denied contact with their families, before being charged with entering China illegally.

One out of dozens, Andy Lee, is now in a Hong Kong prison awaiting sentencing for colluding with foreign forces under China’s national security law — a case linked to imprisoned media mogul and Chinese critic Jimmy Lai.

Since months of mass protests in Hong Kong in 2019, defying China’s grip on the financial hub, authorities have cracked down on the city’s pro-democracy activists and media, while overhauling the electoral system to allow only people loyal to Beijing to enter. general Office.

Beijing rejects criticism by some Western governments for undermining the city’s freedoms and independence, saying new national security legislation it has introduced has restored stability after long and sometimes violent protests.

Police have arrested more than 10,000 people, including several prominent Democrats, in protest-related offenses since 2019, with more than 2,800 of those being prosecuted.

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Additional reporting by Kiki Lu and Jesse Pang, writing by James Pomfret, editing by Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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