Mainland Chinese authorities on Monday released from jail and handed over to Hong Kong eight fugitives from a group of 12 arrested at sea while trying to flee to Taiwan seven months ago.
However, a local lawyer helping the fugitives accused Hong Kong police of keeping their families in the dark all day and leaving them to find out details about arrangements from media reports.
The eight were sent back in batches on Monday after being jailed in Shenzhen for illegally crossing the border last August.
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The first to be returned on Monday was activist Andy Li, who was previously arrested in Hong Kong under the national security law. He gave a statement to police in the absence of his lawyer, according to barrister Chow Hang-tung, who has been helping the families of the 12.
“Police have not informed the activists’ families about the arrangement, at all. The families only learned about it from media reports, how ridiculous is that? It is incomprehensible why police have to be so secretive about it,” Chow said, calling the force’s handling “extremely disappointing”.
“Li’s lawyer arrived at the police station by noon, but was told Li was already giving his statement and did not want to meet his lawyer. It is the detainees’ right to meet their families and their lawyers - why do police have to obstruct them?”
Ten of the 12 were jailed in Shenzhen last year for between seven months and three years for illegally crossing the border during their attempt to reach Taiwan on August 23 to escape prosecution over their roles in Hong Kong’s 2019 anti-government protests. Two underage suspects were returned last year to Hong Kong police.
Li was the only one of the eight not to have been charged in Hong Kong. He was arrested last August on suspicion of money laundering and collusion with foreign forces, an offence under the national security law that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
He was handed over to local police at Shenzhen Bay control point before being sent to Tin Shui Wai Police Station in the morning and subsequently moved to Yuen Long and detained there.
Earlier, a police source said it was unlikely that Li would be freed upon his return to Hong Kong, adding: “We will seek legal advice from the Department of Justice to see what appropriate charge will be laid against him.”
The others released on Monday were Cheng Tsz-ho, Cheung Chun-fu, Cheung Ming-yu, Yim Man-him, Li Tsz-yin, Kok Tsz-lun and Wong Wai-yin. Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon – who were convicted of organising the illegal border crossing – remain in prison on the mainland. Quinn is the only woman in the group.
Lawyer Chow, a member of a concern group helping the 12, on Monday evening said police’s opaque arrangements had left the families waiting for a whole day. Recalling how the mother of Li Tsz-yin had shouted at any passing car not knowing if her son was in it, Chow said: “They just wanted to give some clothes to their son.
“Lawyers also have to visit different police stations to confirm [their clients’] whereabouts.”
Chow urged the force to improve arrangements when Tang and Quinn were released in the future, so their families would not have to go through the same ordeal. She also revealed the pair had been transferred from the Yantian detention centre in Shenzhen to jails elsewhere in Guangdong province. While they had each written one letter to their family members, they had made no calls so far.
The Hong Kong government and Immigration Department should help make such calls possible, she added.
Without addressing the situation regarding Li, a police spokesman said on Monday night that officers would execute their duties according to the law and established procedures and guidelines. He added that police always respected the rights of those arrested and would fully explain their rights to them.
Aside from Li, the other seven released from mainland custody were charged with protest-related offences before they attempted to flee. The alleged offences included making explosives, possession of arms or ammunition without a licence, arson, rioting, assaulting police, possession of offensive weapons and conspiracy to wound.
Another source said the eight suspects would undergo a 14-day coronavirus quarantine before being brought to court, if required. They were all jailed for seven months after being convicted of crossing the border illegally, and each was ordered to pay 10,000 yuan (US$1,538).
Additional reporting by Danny Mok
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This article Hong Kong protests: eight of 12 fugitives captured trying to flee city last August released from prison in mainland China, lawyer accuses police of keeping families in dark first appeared on South China Morning Post