Hong Kong police are hunting for another eight absconded suspects charged over last year’s anti-government unrest, including some believed to have fled the city, the Post has learned.
The suspects have been accused of offences linked to the storming of the city’s Legislative Council on July 1 and unlawful assembly on August 31 last year.
The latest revelation came after recent news of two captures at sea involving 17 young Hong Kong activists fleeing to Taiwan.
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Legal experts warned that the courts could be more stringent and would consider the risk of absconding when it came to handling bail submissions in future similar cases, as the increasing number of suspects who had fled could hurt public perception of the decision to grant bail.
A force insider said the worrying situation had prompted authorities to strengthen intelligence gathering and maritime patrols in an effort to curb criminal suspects from fleeing the city.
“Among the eight, some are banned from leaving Hong Kong so we believe they had fled the city illegally,” the source said.
The Post was told that as of Friday, seven men and a woman, aged between 16 and 29, had jumped bail. They were mostly charged with rioting, possession of offensive weapons, criminal damage and arson.
Among them, a 21-year-old man was charged with criminal damage and entering or remaining in the Legco chamber on July 1 last year, when anti-government protesters stormed the legislature.
Another pair, both men aged 20 and 29, had fled after they were prosecuted for offences including rioting, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, possession of offensive weapons and robbery alleged to have happened at an unlawful assembly on August 31 last year.
Jumping court bail was rare. But now people have fled in large groups
Priscilla Leung, lawmaker, barrister
Barrister and pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun described the number of escapees recently as “amazing” and said the courts would consider cases when handling future bail submissions.
“Judges would consider if defendants with similar backgrounds or in similar cases have absconded and would assess the risk. In my opinion, the ratio is high. Jumping court bail was rare. But now people have fled in large groups,” Leung said.
“The recent incidents could also hurt public perception of the courts, as defendants ignored bail conditions.”
She also warned of the “potential huge risk” of fleeing the city as suspects could be caught by authorities in other jurisdictions and face criminal liability in another place.
Jumping court bail in Hong Kong is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment.
By mid-August this year, police have arrested 9,672 people, aged between 11 and 84, over the social unrest which has gripped the city since June 2019. Around 22 per cent of them, or 2,101 individuals, were prosecuted. The courts have concluded 471 cases, with convicted defendants facing imprisonment of up to 32 months, while 1,630 suspects are still facing trial.
News emerged on Wednesday that the mainland Chinese coastguard had arrested 12 local activists thought to be en route to Taiwan. Among the group, Andy Li was arrested under the national security law earlier this month.
Some others among the dozen are believed to be linked to cases of weapons seizure across the city in December, as well as a foiled bomb plot involving two home-made devices, each packed with 5kg of high-grade explosives, found by police at Wah Yan College Hong Kong.
A few days later, Taiwanese media reported that five other Hong Kong activists had been intercepted by marine authorities from the self-ruled island as they attempted to reach its shores, prompting the Hong Kong government to call on Taipei to return any criminal suspects in its custody to the city.
A senior government source told the Post earlier that the recent high-profile marine interceptions would have a deterrent effect on local suspects wishing to flee the city, by showing the “huge” cost of such an attempt.
He also said he believed the group of 12, currently detained in Yantian district in Shenzhen, would be held on mainland soil until their legal procedures were completed.