The Chinese authorities have prevented lawyers from meeting a group of Hongkongers who are being detained in China after they attempted to flee to Taiwan.

The 12 – including an activist who was previously arrested under the national security law – boarded a speedboat in Sai Kung en route to Kaohsiung in order to seek asylum. But they were stopped by Chinese marine police on the morning of August 23 for allegedly crossing the border illegally.

Hong Kong China flag
Photo: GovHK.

The group are currently being held at Shenzhen’s Yantian District Detention Centre. It is uncertain whether China is holding them under a 15-day administrative detention – which will expire on Sunday or Monday – or under criminal detention which could last up to 37 days.

A source familiar with the matter told HKFP that lawyers for four detainees had been disallowed access to their clients.

I-Cable reported that human rights lawyer Lu Siwei – who was retained by family members of one of the detainees – was unable to visit his client on Friday morning. After presenting documentation from the family members and registering at the detention centre, a plainclothes police officer took Lu to a guard station. But he was reportedly denied access after waiting for three hours.

Lu told i-Cable that the authorities asked for accreditation from the lawyer to verify the identity of the detainee’s family member.

Fan Biaowen – another human rights lawyer representing a detainee – was also denied entry under the same reason on the same day according to the report.

The Security Bureau said on Monday that the Chinese authorities had notified the police force that 12 Hongkongers were being held under compulsory criminal measures. Hong Kong and mainland China previously signed a reciprocal notification mechanism which states that each government should be informed within seven days should the other impose such measures against any of their citizens.

national security law
File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

According to Article 318 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, ringleaders who organise people to secretly cross a national border may be sentenced to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, a fine or confiscation of property. Individuals who secretly cross the national border, according to Article 322, shall be sentenced to up to a year of fixed-term imprisonment and criminal detention or control.

Security law suspect

Among the dozen being held, 29-year-old Andy Li was arrested on August 10 by Hong Kong police under the national security law. Nine other pro-democracy figures including Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai and his two sons were arrested on the same day.

The newly enacted law criminalises subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and interference with transportation and other infrastructure. Having surrendered his passport, Li was released on bail and should have reported to the police station last Tuesday.

Local media reported that all 12 on board were criminally charged and released on bail – some in connection with last year’s protests – including homemade bomb cases. Four frontline protesters from the group Dragonslayers were among them.

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted under the hashtag #save12hkyouths, urging the world to keep a close eye on the issue: “[T]here’s still a huge question mark on when they will be prosecuted, put on trial and how long trial will last. Prosecution can be further delayed if Chinese prosecutors claim they need “supplementary investigation”. It will be like an endless tunnel.”

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.