China sentences 10 seeking to flee Hong Kong to prison terms

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One of the 12 Hong Kong activists detained at sea by Chinese authorities, second from right, with his head covered, is escorted by Hong Kong police officers after being transferred by Chinese authorities at Hong Kong's Shenzhen Bay Port, a China-Hong Kong border, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. A Chinese court on Wednesday sentenced 10 pro-democracy activists who sought to flee Hong Kong by speedboat to between seven months and three years in prison, in a case with major political overtones for the territory. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

BEIJING – A Chinese court on Wednesday sentenced 10 pro-democracy activists and protesters who sought to flee Hong Kong by speedboat to between seven months and three years in prison, in a case with major political overtones for the territory.

The Yantian District Court in the southern city of Shenzhen gave the harshest sentences to the two accused organizers of the ill-fated Aug. 23 attempt to reach self-ruled Taiwan. Relatives said all defendants pleaded guilty, a move apparently aimed at receiving lighter sentences.

The defendants are believed to have feared they would be prosecuted for their activities in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Hong Kong media reports said at least one may have had a warrant out for his arrest under a tough new national security law imposed on the semi-autonomous territory by Beijing in June.

The organizers received sentences of two and three years, while the eight other participants were given seven months in prison.

They were among 12 people on board when their boat was stopped by Chinese authorities. The court said it held a private hearing for two minors and would not charge the them for illegally crossing the border even though they had admitted guilt.

The two youngest detainees – aged 17 and 18 – were handed over to Hong Kong police by mainland authorities on Wednesday.

They could face additional charges in the city for absconding, police said at a news conference in Hong Kong.

“We will bring this issue up to the court tomorrow and apply to the court to remand these two persons in jail custody,” said Cheng Lai-ki, chief superintendent of the Commercial Crime Bureau.