The last of 12 Hongkongers caught by mainland Chinese coastguards over a failed bid to flee to Taiwan has been officially rearrested and remanded into custody in the city pending trial on charges linked to the 2019 extradition bill protests.

Tang Kai-yin
Tang Kai-yin. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Tang Kai-yin, 34, was brought to the District Court on Wednesday in connection to a case of alleged possession of raw materials for making petrol bombs in 2019. His court appearance came a day after he was transferred to the Hong Kong police from mainland China, where he served three years in prison for organising an illegal border crossing involving 11 other activists facing protest-related charges in Hong Kong.

Dressed in a white polo shirt and black pants, Tang was escorted to the District Court in a black hood and chained around his waist. Around 30 people were in the public gallery, including Cheng Tsz-ho, who was Tang’s co-defendant in the bomb-making case and one of the 12 activists detained in China.

The dozen fugitives were intercepted by the Chinese authorities on August 23, 2020 while attempting to make a run for the self-ruled island in a speedboat. Most of those on board were on bail pending trial over offences linked to the 2019 unrest, including rioting, arson and making explosives.

Following a closed-door trial in Shenzhen in December 2020, eight activists were sentenced to seven months behind bars for crossing the border illegally. Tang and Quinn Moon received heavier jail terms of three years and two years, respectively, for organising the escape. The remaining two teenage fugitives were handed over to the Hong Kong police without charge, after Chinese authorities said they admitted wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, Tang’s lawyer applied for a 10-week adjournment for the defendant to apply for legal aid and seek legal advice on new documents in the case.

Save 12 Hong Kong Twelve
A banner in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, displayed in November 2020, calls for the release of the 12 Hongkongers detained in mainland China after a failed escape attempt to Taiwan. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

The prosecution confirmed with District Judge Justin Ko that the case of Tang, which involved five defendants originally, would proceed based on the most updated charge sheet. The document was amended previously when the court tried other defendants in the absence of Tang.

The Department of Justice has yet to decide whether to press additional charges against Tang in relation to the speedboat escape. Prosecutors previously charged nine of the fugitives with perverting the course of justice on top of their original charges.

Seven of them were jailed for seven to 10 months after they admitted to taking part in a plan to abscond to Taiwan on a speedboat in August 2020 while facing charges linked to the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests.

Ko eventually adjourned the case to November 2 for a mention.

Whether Tang’s cash bail of HK$5,000 paid before the speedboat escape bid would be confiscated will be decided at the next hearing, the judge said.

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.