Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong will likely hold the trials of 12 Hong Kong protesters detained as they fled to the democratic island of Taiwan in the very first days of the New Year, according to a defense lawyer representing one of them.
The Yantian District People’s Procuratorate in Guangdong’s Shenzhen city is prosecuting Hong Kong activists Quinn Moon and Tang Kai-yin for “organizing an illegal border crossing,” which carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment, and Li Tsz-yin; Andy Li; Wong Wai-yin, and Kok Tsz-lun for “illegally crossing a border.”
According to an FAQ article published by defense attorney Lu Siwei in a number of Hong Kong media outlets this week, the trial looks set to be held at the Yantian District People’s Court on Jan. 1.
Hearings will be held separately behind closed doors in the cases of two detainees who were under 18 at the time of their arrest.
“My guess is that the trials will take place on around Jan. 1, 2021,” Lu wrote. “After that, the judgment will come by the end of the January, and it is possible that it could be delivered at the trial.”
Lu said the authorities had failed to stick to criminal procedural rules, because they had prevented any of the lawyers hired by the detainees’ families from meeting with them or reviewing the case files.
“The Yantian police department, the Yantian Detention Center and the Yantian state prosecutor claim that the detainees have already hired two lawyers each … so it is likely that the Yantian court will also use this a pretext to deny access to lawyers hired by the families,” Lu said.
He said the lawyers hired by the families should continue to apply to review the case files and to apply to be recognized as defense attorneys in the case.
“The families should also request that the government-appointed lawyers withdraw from the case, or file official complaints against them,” Lu wrote.
“The lawyers hired by the families have been excluded from this case all along, which means that there have already been serious violations of procedure in this case,” he said. “This also undermines the legality of the [forthcoming] trial.”
Lu said all 12 detainees will likely be convicted, but that the majority could be sentenced to time already served, and therefore be home with their families by the Lunar New Year celebrations in February.
Lu said the likely tougher sentences handed down to Quinn Moon and Tang Kai-yin — charged with “organizing an illegal border crossing” — could hinge on the details of their role in the attempt to flee to Taiwan by speedboat.
The lesser charge of “illegally crossing a border” carries a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment, detention or house arrest and a fine.
Anyone who cooperated with the investigation was likely to receive a more lenient sentence, Lu said.
If the majority are sentenced to time served, they could be released back to Hong Kong within a few days of the trial, he said.
The detainees were aged 16 to 33 when they were intercepted by the China Coast Guard on Aug. 23, as they tried to flee to Taiwan by speedboat.
However, even if they are returned to Hong Kong, they still face charges linked to months of mass popular protest that rocked the city last year, either under public order legislation or the draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Hong Kong from July 1.
Hong Kong’s government has declined to press the Shenzhen authorities for the 12 detainees’ release, on the grounds that they are already fugitives.
Flight data also showed government aircraft in the area during their detention, contradicting the Hong Kong authorities’ claim to have had no involvement in the operation, prompting protests by pro-democracy activists and relatives of the 12 detainees in October.
The U.S. this week added the Hong Kong Government Flying Service to a listed of “military end-user” entities linked to export bans, although it didn’t make explicit any link to its role in the interception of the Hong Kong 12.
Back in Hong Kong, police were out on the streets in large numbers, with photos of long lines of police vans posted to Twitter, amid grumbles from shoppers that the police were interfering with normal, peaceful activity.
“Lyndhurst Terrace in Central crammed with police vehicles,” EFE reporter Shirley Lau tweeted on Thursday. “Auxiliary police out in force.”
“A male passersby grumbled: ‘No peace on Christmas Eve cos of #Hongkong police,'” Lau wrote.
Meanwhile, Mongkok East district councilor Ben Lam said the government had banned festive lighting with “Go, Hong Kong!” on the city’s streets.
“The reason given was ‘to avoid misunderstandings and having an impact on social harmony’,” Lam said in a post to his Facebook page.
The Hong Kong police also took to Twitter, saying someone had been “inciting” Hongkongers to hold “illegal assemblies” on Christmas Eve, and vowing to “uphold the law.”
Replies to the tweet included a photo of police officers beating up a protester on a Hong Kong street.
Reported by RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.