A Hong Kong teenager who attempted to flee to Taiwan by speedboat along with 11 other activists has been sentenced to a training centre for the escape bid and for earlier protest-related offences.

Wan Chai government tower district court eastern magistrate
Wan Chai government tower. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Hoang Lam-phuc, an ethnic Vietnamese aged 17, pleaded guilty last month to attempted arson and possessing items with intent to damage property, following his arrest for throwing a petrol bomb at Mong Kok police station in October 2019. On Monday he pleaded guilty to a third charge of perverting justice over his attempt to flee to Taiwan last year.

Hoang was among a group of 12 pro-democracy activists who faced criminal charges in Hong Kong over the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests but were captured by the Chinese coastguard last August while trying to flee to Taiwan. They spent months in a mainland prison for making an illegal border crossing.

District Court Judge Frankie Yiu said Hoang would have faced a six-year sentence for the combined charges, or four years with a guilty plea. Taking into consideration that Hoang had been in custody in Hong Kong and mainland China for over a year, and had cooperated by disclosing in detail the activists’ escape plans, Yiu ordered Hoang to be sent to a training centre for young offenders, news website HK01 reported.

Hong Kong 12 CUHK
A banner in the Chinese University of Hong Kong calling for support to save the 12 Hongkongers detained in China. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

Hoang had been granted bail after his arrest on the petrol bomb charge.

During a recorded interview with police, Hoang admitted searching on Instagram for information about fleeing to Taiwan. He was then introduced to another defendant and given about HK$150,000 by other activists to pay for the escape, the website reported.

Eight of the 12 Hong Kong activists communicated using Telegram and met in person several times to discuss their escape plan, while one defendant was tasked with buying the speedboat, Stand News reported.

Assistance from MAC alleged

Before departure, Hoang told police, he was told to bring along his court and bail documents, so that representatives of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) who were set to receive him could confirm his identity as a protester and offer asylum. Hoang and other defendants also arranged to stay in “safe houses” until the day of their escape.

On August 22, 2020, Hoang was driven to Po Toi O at around midnight, where he met other defendants and loaded jerry cans of gasoline onto the speedboat. He was allegedly given a code word to use when communicating with officials from the MAC and was told to say they were out fishing if they were intercepted by authorities before reaching Taiwan.

The 12 were allegedly tracked by Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service and intercepted by the Chinese coast guard on August 23.

Hoang and another minor were sent back to Hong Kong in December without charge, after a Shenzhen court said they had “admitted wrongdoing.”

Of the other 10, two of the alleged organisers remain in jail in the mainland and the remaining eight came back in March after serving prison sentences.

The most prominent defendant in the case, Andy Li, is due to appear in the High Court. The case of the remaining seven was adjourned until September.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.