Eight of the 12 Hong Kong activists arrested at sea while trying to flee to Taiwan returned to the city on Monday after serving seven months behind bars in mainland China.

Police said they received the eight males at Shenzhen Bay Port in batches. Activist Andy Li, who was arrested for alleged collusion with foreign forces under the national security law, was the first to arrive in a police minivan, according to local media.

12 detainees
A minivan believed to be carrying one of the eight Hongkongers arrives in Tin Shui Wai Police Station on March 22, 2021. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Senior superintendent Steve Li of the police national security unit was seen arriving at Tin Shui Wai Police Station, where the activist was taken after leaving Shenzhen.

Police said most of the suspects who were returned were involved in cases linked to the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests. They face charges included rioting, conspiracy to commit arson, making explosives and possession of offensive weapons.

They will all face to serve 14 days in quarantine before answering the charges.

Speaking to reporters outside the Tin Shui Wai Police Station, a representative from the Save 12 Hong Kong Youths concern group said they were “very, very disappointed” about the police handover arrangement. Chow Hang-tung, who is a barrister and vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance, said police never informed family members of the eight suspects about the details of the transfer, saying they could only get updates from the news. She questioned what was so “secretive” about the suspects’ return from China.

“Police refused to tell family members but they could tell the media… how ridiculous is that?” she asked.

Family members only had basic requests such as giving the returnees clothes and food, the concern group said, adding that only one of the returned Hongkongers has managed to call his family so far, while activist Andy Li had to give statements to police without the presence of his lawyers.

Two still imprisoned

The 12 Hongkongers left for Taiwan by speedboat last August but were intercepted by the Chinese coastguard. After a four-month detention, a Shenzhen court jailed eight of them in December for seven months for crossing the border illegally.

Twelve detainees
Family members of the 12 detained Hongkongers in a press conference in September 2020.

The group completed their terms on Monday after the initial detention period was taken into consideration.

Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were convicted of organising the crossing, are still in prison on the mainland after the court imposed heavier sentences of three and two years, respectively.

The court decided not to prosecute teenagers Liu Tsz-man and Hoang Lam-phuc and they were sent back to Hong Kong on December 30, with Hong Kong police warning they may face extra charges for allegedly fleeing to Taiwan.

Family members had complained that they could not access the group when they were in mainland custody. They had urged the Hong Kong government to bring the group back, but local officials said they would not interfere with law enforcement operations in another jurisdiction.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.