Hong Kong’s security chief has doubled down on his calls for Taiwan to hand over five detained residents who allegedly fled to the self-ruled island in an asylum bid, as its premier said his government hoped to offer substantial help to people in need.
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu also revealed his side had yet to receive any information from Taiwanese authorities on the condition of the individuals.
“We did not receive any request for assistance from their families either,” he wrote on his official blog on Monday.
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The group’s detention was confirmed on Sunday by Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency, which quoted an unidentified source.
The group was intercepted by the Taiwan Coast Guard at the end of July after their boat ran out of fuel and drifted towards the Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands in Chinese, Taiwanese newspaper China Times reported late last month. The islands are controlled by Taipei but claimed by mainland China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province.
At least two faced rioting charges stemming from anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, it said, although the identities of the five have not been confirmed. The Security Bureau first appealed for their return two weeks ago.
Lee called on Taiwan again to shoulder its responsibility in combating cross-border crimes.
“If they are suspected of committing crimes in Hong Kong, do not harbour criminals,” he wrote. “We hope that Taiwan will hand them back … after going through legitimate procedures, so that Hong Kong will handle them in accordance with the law.”
According to Hong Kong authorities, dozens of protesters have fled to Taiwan, but no extradition treaty exists between the two jurisdictions. Hong Kong cited the lack of a formal arrangement in launching last year’s ill-fated extradition bill that triggered months of social unrest. The introduction of the national security law targeting acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, along with its reach into other jurisdictions, has further complicated ties between the two governments.
“[The suspects] should calmly face their legal responsibilities,” Lee wrote. “It would be much better than bearing with fear the stamp of having absconded for the rest of their lives.”
Other jurisdictions must not interfere with the city’s law enforcement efforts, he said, adding police had made inquiries with their Taiwanese counterparts about the matter.
When Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang was asked on Monday whether his government would hand the five back, he refused to comment on specific cases but said it hoped to provide people in need with substantial assistance.
“The government and people from all walks of life care about Hong Kong and its people,” Su said. “[We] have also set up a dedicated agency and allocated special funds, hoping to offer help to Hongkongers in need.”
Taiwan said in June it would establish an office dedicated to assisting residents from the city who wanted to seek asylum on the island out of fear they would be prosecuted at home over alleged involvement in the anti-government protests. The new office would be funded by the government and work with human rights and civil groups to help the individuals with residency, settlement, employment and protection issues, along with providing a basic living allowance.
The Central News Agency reported late on Sunday the five had “basic rights, including access to lawyers”, citing an unnamed source.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the governmental body responsible for cross-strait, Hong Kong and Macau affairs, said Taipei would provide humanitarian assistance to those in need according to established mechanisms.
“Regarding the conjecture circulating around, we think it might serve specific purposes, harming the whole mechanism and individuals,” the council said.
Taiwanese journalist Edd Jhong, who earlier said he had been trying to help the five reach the island, appealed to Hong Kong protesters to avoid making such asylum bids on Sunday.
Jhong urged the council “not to provoke anyone who hoped to help” with such bids while also fulfilling its promises of assistance.
Hong Kong Outlanders, a civic group established by the city’s residents in Taiwan, also called on people to refrain from reposting, responding or commenting on any information concerning details of how residents fled to the island.
“Any descriptions of assisting organisations, routes and processes of their escape will bring unnecessary danger to Hong Kong people who stay here now, under the national security law,” it said on its Facebook page.
A Taiwanese resident who was involved in assisting asylum-seeking Hongkongers in recent months said his government preferred to keep its involvement out of the limelight.
“It won’t benefit anyone if it’s escalated into a diplomatic row,” he said, requesting anonymity.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong steps up maritime patrols amid reports of local activists being intercepted at sea while attempting to flee to Taiwan
- Age of national security law and fleeing Hong Kong activists stir memories of nine-hour swims, brushes with death on the waves for veteran trio