Family members of 12 Hong Kong fugitives detained in mainland China have urged the Shenzhen authorities to let them attend their loved ones’ hearings, saying in a joint letter they were worried the coronavirus pandemic could be used as an “excuse” to keep them away.
Ten of the 12 Hongkongers were last week charged with offences related to crossing the border illegally, while closed-door hearings will be held to decide the cases of two underage suspects.
All 12 were facing charges related to last year’s anti-government protests in Hong Kong, and were fleeing to Taiwan on a speedboat on August 23 when they were intercepted by the China Coast Guard. Since then, they have been held in the Yantian district detention centre in Shenzhen.
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Several family members of the fugitives went to the Hong Kong Immigration Department’s headquarters on Monday afternoon to seek help in attending the trials.
Before entering Immigration Tower, the wife of one of the fugitives read out a joint letter from the families saying they wanted to attend the hearings in Shenzhen, but were concerned about the 14-day quarantine requirement put in place because of the pandemic.
“We are worried the Chinese authorities will use the pandemic as an excuse to prevent us from attending the trial and meeting our family members,” the joint letter said.
“They have been detained for more than 100 days,” it continued, adding that if the families could not attend, “the hearings will be equivalent to a secret trial”.
The families noted that according to the mainland’s Criminal Procedure Law, authorities were only required to serve notice of the hearing and announce the trial venue three days in advance.
“Given the pandemic, if the two-week quarantine requirement is not waived or the trial date is not notified in advance, it will be impossible for the families to complete quarantine before the trial commences,” they said.
The family members urged the mainland authorities to tell them the trial date no less than 20 days in advance to ensure arrangements for coronavirus testing and other considerations could be made.
“It is heartbreaking and worrying to imagine the 12 Hongkongers are still being held incommunicado,” said the father of Li Tsz-yin, one of the fugitives.
“They have been detained for 120 days, and I doubt whether any of our letters have reached my son’s hands.”
The families demanded the mainland authorities open the trial to the public and stream it on the internet. They also urged the Hong Kong government to send local officials with them to Yantian during the trial.
The requests came five days after the Yantian People’s Procuratorate announced 10 of the 12 fugitives had been formally charged.
Two suspects, a man and a woman, were charged with organising others to illegally cross the Chinese border, while eight – including Andy Li, who was accused of violating the national security law in Hong Kong – were charged with crossing the border illegally.
Without providing further details, the authorities mentioned at the time that the 12 Hongkongers’ cases would be referred to the Yantian People’s Court. The trial date was not announced.
The families had earlier said the mainland lawyers they hired to represent the 12 had been denied access to their clients. Shenzhen officials reportedly told the lawyers that the fugitives were being represented by advocates assigned to them by the authorities.
Several families last month received handwritten letters purportedly from the detained, some of whom urged their relatives to refrain from speaking too much about the case.
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