Government-appointed lawyers have told the relatives of 12 Hong Kong fugitives arrested while attempting to flee to Taiwan that a mainland Chinese court will hand down verdicts for 10 of them on Wednesday morning, according to a concern group that has been assisting the families.
The news came as China’s embassy in Britain on Tuesday slammed British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for expressing concern that the defendants had been “tried in secret” and denied access to lawyers of their choosing.
“The statement of the UK side shows no respect for facts and confuses right and wrong,” the embassy’s spokesman said, using nearly identical language to that directed at US criticisms a day earlier.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The 10 fugitives reportedly pleaded guilty on Monday at what the Yantian People’s Court in Shenzhen said was an open trial attended by family members. However, journalists from the Post and other Hong Kong media organisations, as well as a group of Western diplomats, were refused access. Family members also said they were not allowed to attend the hearing.
Eight of the 10 defendants stand accused of illegally crossing the border and two of organising the crime. It has not yet been determined if two underage detainees will be prosecuted.
Owen Chow Ka-sing, an opposition activist of the Hong Kong concern group, said several families were notified that the court would announce the verdict at 10.30am on Wednesday.
Among them was the father of 29-year-old defendant Li Tsz-yin who quoted a government-appointed lawyer as telling him over the phone: “Your son pleaded guilty and behaved well.”
Chow said another family was told that eight defendants, who were charged with crossing the border illegally, could be sentenced to less than seven months’ jail.
The concern group would help the families ask for jail visits once the sentences were handed down, he added.
Chow Hang-tung, a barrister who has been helping the families, said the authorities’ decision to hand down judgments two days after the trial ended deviated from the usual handling of many previous cases involving political dissidents.
“It might reflect that Beijing has been highly aware of criticisms made against it by the international community,” she said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a family-appointed mainland lawyer said that in high-profile trials, it was common practice for the judicial body to conduct an internal review or consult high-ranking officials before handing down judgments.
The 12 activists have been held in Shenzhen since they were captured at sea in August while attempting to escape to Taiwan to avoid charges tied to last year’s anti-government protests.
Hitting out at Raab, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London urged the British government to “stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs, China’s internal affairs and China’s judicial sovereignty”.
Raab had said not allowing the defendants to choose their lawyers raised “serious questions about access to legal counsel in mainland China” and urged Beijing to ensure its justice system was fair and transparent.
But the Chinese embassy spokesman said: “Everyone is equal before the law. No one is above the law … The handling of the case by China’s judicial institutions in accordance with the law brooks no distortion, discredit or interference.”
The spokesman also noted that the trial was attended by deputies of Shenzhen’s legislature and top political advisory body.
Meanwhile, a spokesman of the EU’s European External Action Service, which handles the union’s foreign relations, criticised mainland authorities’ handling of the trial.
“The defendants’ rights to a fair trial and due process … have not been respected. We call on China to guarantee procedural fairness and due process of law for these individuals,” he said.
More from South China Morning Post:
This article Shenzhen court to deliver verdict on Hong Kong fugitives on Wednesday morning, while Chinese embassy slams British foreign secretary’s ‘secret trial’ concerns first appeared on South China Morning Post