“It is my humble wish that he is safe and comes back in one piece,” Ms A told HKFP. She is the mother of one of the twelve Hongkongers currently detained in Shenzhen on the suspicion of illegally crossing the border.

On August 23, at around 9 am, Guangdong Maritime Police stopped a speedboat and detained the group which had left Sai Kung en route to Taiwan’s Kaohsiung in an attempt to flee Hong Kong.

Hong Kong boat
A boat sails through Victoria harbour in Hong Kong early on June 22, 2019. File photo: Philip Fong/AFP.

Twenty days have passed and so far no news has come from Yantian District Detention Centre, where the group has reportedly been detained. Since last Friday, lawyers appointed by the family members have been denied access to their clients despite repeated attempts to visit them.

According to a source familiar with the matter, none of the family-appointed lawyers has successfully met the detainees.

“I feel helpless,” said Ms A, who is using a pseudonym to protect the identity of the detained person. “News circulates and overwhelms us every day. The message that we receive just gets worse day by day.”

On Wednesday, human rights lawyer Lu Siwei, who represents another detainee, told reporters he was denied access to his client for the second time. The police officer he spoke with told him two other lawyers – whom Lu suspected of being state-appointed – had taken over the case.

“I am deeply worried that they will appoint lawyers for my son,” Ms A said, adding she has been complying with the authorities’ instructions but government officials in touch with her appeared to be attempting to “fool” her with bureaucratic language.

She said she was in close contact with the HKSAR Government Office in Guangdong for the first 10 days of her son’s detention.

lu siwei lawyer
Lu Siwei. Photo: screenshot.

“The contact person was responsive at first,” she recalled, but the relationship soured after the first lawyer was refused access to the detainee. The officer – surnamed Su – began to sound impatient and avoid Ms A’s calls, she said.

“We kept calling and he did not pick up both our house phone or mobile. We bought a new SIM card and tried calling with a new number but to no avail.”

The officer eventually answered Ms A’s call on Friday, after nearly a week: “He sounded impatient, displeased and displayed a bad attitude.”

It is unclear what charges her son may be facing and if he is under criminal detention, which could last up to 37 days. The lawyer appointed by Ms A requested to see her son earlier this week but was turned away.

“Is he even in Yantian? It is unknown. Nobody has seen him,” she said.

On Thursday, she received a call from a man who claimed to be a Hong Kong police officer overseeing the case and asked what her demands were.

“He said ‘I understand that you wish to call your son or receive letters from him.’ I said no. My request is simple and humble. It is a basic right. Let the lawyer whom I hired meet my son, not the lawyers sent from the state.”

Ms A’s daughter-in-law, the detainee’s wife, also received a phone call from the Hong Kong Immigration Department, asking the family to draft a letter stating their refusal to accept the newly-appointed lawyers.

‘It gets political’

Ms A said she has been avoiding media interview requests every day: “I have been avoiding talking or discussing it.”

high court
High Court. File photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

“I know when it comes to politics, it’s not us common people who can afford to get involved. It is incomprehensible to us. I am not wise and, to be honest, my family is not wise for getting involved in politics. That’s why I chose to keep a low profile.”

Chinese law states that those convicted of illegally crossing the border could face up to a year imprisonment, while the organiser could face a maximum of life behind bars. Lu cited a police officer at Yantian as saying some detainees were being considered as the “ringleader.”

“At first I thought I would resign to the fact that he will go to jail. If it’s a year, so be it.”

However, the situation has gotten so bad that she decided to go public, she said.

“He is my son and I have to take this into my own hands… I don’t care if we become political bargain chips. They can have it if they want, so long as my son is rescued.”

In a press statement released on Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern over the detainees’ welfare and refusal to grant access to the family-appointed lawyers.

“Local authorities have yet to provide information regarding their welfare, or the charges against them. We question Chief Executive [Carrie] Lam’s stated commitment to protecting the rights of Hong Kong residents, and call on authorities to ensure due process.”

Pompeo later tweeted that he was “deeply disturbed” by the matter and said he hoped Lam’s commitment was “more than just words.”

Asked whether she had anything to say to her son, Ms A said: “He is not alone. The entire family is confronting the matter together.”

“It may take 10 years to be back in Hong Kong. We will try to make more money during his detention… Let’s start a small business and he can start a new life under a new name.”

“If you don’t like Hong Kong, let’s leave. Even if we are broke, even if we have to beg for a living, we have to leave… We can’t afford to play this political game,” she said, weeping.

Correction 12.9.20: a previous version of this article stated that Ms A was in contact with Guangdong’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. It was the HKSAR Government Office in Guangdong.

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.