Four fugitive Hongkongers facing charges over the 2019 protests, including Tsang Chi-kin who had been shot by police that year, appeared in court on Thursday after hiding out for nearly two years and moving between safehouses concealed in cardboard cartons, police said.

Tsang, 21, and the other three were arrested at Pak Tam Chung in Sai Kung the day before. Police said they intended to leave Hong Kong for an unspecified destination and local media reports said they had planned to depart by sea for Taiwan.

Tsang Chi-kin. File photo: Supplied.

Senior Superintendent Li Kwai-wah said the police national security unit had taken over the case because of “potential national security risks” – which he refused to disclose. He told reporters the four, aged between 16 to 24, had been kept in hideouts for nearly two years.

Li said their most recent hideout was a windowless unit inside an industrial building in Tsuen Wan. He said a group which he did not identify had been supporting them but had stopped paying rent on the hideouts or supplying food since the beginning of this year.

The four were skinny, with long and unkempt hair and “poor mental condition” when arrested, Li added.

He said the four used three different safehouses and would be transferred between each hidden in cardboard cartons.

Li Kwai-wah meets the press on Thursday. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

“Although the four arrestees had committed some offences in the past, and violated bail conditions, after seeing what they had been through and their appearance, we felt very upset and appalled,” Li said.

The four “were living a lie and full of fear for nearly two years – and wasted two years of their youth for nothing.”

Li said the group which assisted the four were supported by a foreign crowdfunding site. He said the four paid the group HK$400,000 to try to secure passage out of Hong Kong.

Li said the group started in 2020 to approach protesters awaiting trial and offering them an escape route from the city if they paid in advance. The four had visited the US Consulate in 2020 but were denied assistance, he said.

Li said the group numbered 10 and most had fled the city. Some were in the UK.

The US consulate in Hong Kong. File photo: HKFP.

Police on Wednesday night also arrested a 34-year-old warehouse worker suspected of helping hide the four, providing them with food and transferring them between hideouts.

He added that people who made donations to the 10-strong group may also be in violation of the law.

The National Security Department would continue investigations into the members of the group in the city and the whereabouts of their funds, Li said. Arrest warrants would be issued for those overseas if suitable.

Court appearance

Tsang appeared in District Court in front of Judge Justin Ko on Thursday afternoon, together with Fung Ching-wah, 23, and a 16-year-old.

Tsang and Fung are accused of rioting at a protest on October 1, 2019 at which Tsang was shot and injured, while the 16-year-old faces four charges including rioting and wounding with intent.

The three did not apply for bail and the judge adjourned the case to September 13.

Wong Hoi-ming, the fourth arrestee, appeared at Eastern Magistrates’ Courts. He pleaded guilty to illegal assembly over a protest on June 12, 2019 and possessing marijuana outside of a mall in Tsz Wan Shan in August 2019 and will appear in court again on August 31.

Reported fleeing attempts

Local media reported that the four planned to flee to Taiwan by speedboat from Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung, but were arrested by police at Pak Tam Chung Bus Terminus at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

District Court. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Tsang had failed to appear in court on December 22, 2020 over one count of rioting and two counts of assaulting police during the protest on October 1, China’s National Day. The court issued a warrant for his arrest. The other three had also failed to answer court dates.

Friends of Hong Kong, a London-based advocacy group, announced on the day Tsang failed to appear that he was was “in exile” with his group. It gave no details.

Tsang said in a statement that day he was among a group of protesters who sought assistance at the US consulate in October 2020 but in vain.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.