The 12 Hong Kong people arrested at sea by mainland authorities were not “democratic activists being oppressed”, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, with 10 of them on bail for offences in the Asian financial hub.
The 12 were arrested on Aug. 23 for illegal entry into mainland China after setting off from Hong Kong in a boat bound for self-ruled Taiwan, amid a crackdown by Beijing on pro-democracy activists in the former British colony.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said on Monday all 12 were suspected of committing crimes in Hong Kong.
Ten of them had been charged with offences such as manufacturing or possessing explosives, arson, rioting, assaulting police or possession of offensive weapons. Those 10 had been on bail and not allowed to leave Hong Kong, it said.
One was suspected of colluding with foreign forces under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June. The law allows for the punishment of anything China considers to be subversion, separatism, terrorism or such collusion.
Speaking at her regular weekly news conference, Lam reiterated that the 12 will have to face justice in the mainland and that her government will provide them and their families with the “needed and feasible” assistance.
“The reason for them leaving Hong Kong seems to be that they were running away from legal responsibility,” Lam said.
“I want to set the record straight, because certain local and overseas individuals tried to shift the attention, describing them as democratic (activists) being oppressed.”
Lam’s comments come after relatives of some of the detainees held a news conference on Saturday to demand their urgent return and plead for them to be allowed to call home and consult lawyers appointed by the families and not the Chinese government.
Hours before the families’ appearance, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was deeply concerned about the activists, noting they had been denied access to lawyers.
China’s foreign ministry on Sunday labelled the group “separatists”. Police in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where they are being held, said on Sunday they were suspected of illegal entry, its first public notice on the matter.
Asked about whether it was appropriate label them as “separatists” given they are yet to face trial, Lam said she saw “no particular value” in debating the issue.
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