Three family members of Hong Kong fugitives jailed by a court in neighbouring Shenzhen have travelled to the mainland city hoping to see their loved ones for the first time in four months, a former opposition lawmaker has said.
But Covid-19 restrictions limiting visitors to the city’s prisons could doom their chances of any reunion.
The families have been trying to decide on their next steps, including whether to help launch an appeal against the ruling, but are struggling with a lack of communication by Shenzhen authorities and little assistance from the Hong Kong government, according to former legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick.
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“The family members cannot help [the fugitives] lodge any appeal,” Chu told RTHK’s City Forum on Sunday. “They cannot get in touch with [them] to ask if they would like to appeal and if they need any help on this. The information we have so far is very limited. It remains unknown where they will serve their sentence, when they can be visited or what’s the procedures for these visits.”
Twelve fugitives, aged 16 to 33, were apprehended by the Chinese coastguard last August as they tried to flee by sea to Taiwan to escape charges stemming from the anti-government protests that erupted in Hong Kong in 2019.
Eight admitted to illegally crossing the border and two pleaded guilty to organising the crime during their trial at Yantian People’s Court last week, Xinhua reported. The eight were jailed for seven months and the other two for two and three years, respectively. A pair of underage suspects were spared trial and handed over to Hong Kong police.
All but one of the dozen had already been charged in Hong Kong with offences arising from the social unrest. The remaining one, activist Andy Li, has not been formally charged, but was arrested in August on suspicion of money laundering and collusion with foreign forces, an offence under the Beijing-imposed national security law.
Chu said the families had so far been unsuccessful in getting help from the Yantian district detention centre, the lawyers appointed by mainland authorities or the Immigration Department of Hong Kong. But they decided to try their luck and headed to Shenzhen on Sunday.
According to a notice issued by the Guangdong Prison Administrative Bureau in October, Shenzhen Prison had stopped receiving visitors from outside the city as part of measures to control the pandemic. It is not yet known whether the fugitives will be transferred. But a chief concern was the possibility Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were convicted of organising the illegal crossing, could be sent to prisons outside Guangdong, which would make visits more difficult.
To visit Shenzhen, the families must also present proof of a negative Covid-19 test result issued within 24 hours and quarantine at a hotel for two weeks.
“They want to visit their family members as soon as possible as they have not seen each other for four months already,” Chu said. “They would rather wait across the border.”
Other speakers on the RTHK show disagreed over how much the government should assist the families. Former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, a member of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, said the government should have helped to facilitate the visits, especially during the pandemic.
But pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said it was unreasonable to demand local authorities offer the fugitives any assistance, arguing the charges they faced in Hong Kong had made their cases “more complicated”.
“It is too much to ask [the local authorities] to love their enemy,” Tse said, a remark slammed by Chu as “outrageous”.
Lawyer Chan Chak-ming, head of the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute’s Centre for the Rule of Law, agreed the administration could have offered the family members greater humanitarian assistance.
A Security Bureau spokesman said that under established practice, the government’s mainland offices would offer appropriate advice and information to residents detained over the border and their families, but would neither arrange visits nor accompany them.
He added the family members of the 10 Hongkongers could continue to contact the Immigration Department for assistance and they would relay their calls to the mainland authorities in writing.
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