China jails 10 Hong Kong democracy activists after attempting escape to Taiwan

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China has handed down jail sentences of up to three years to 10 democracy activists from Hong Kong after they attempted to escape to Taiwan by boat earlier this year. Two other teenage members of the group are to be released and sent back to Hong Kong, according to authorities.

A Chinese court on Wednesday said that it jailed 10 Hong Kong democracy activists for up to three years over a bid to flee the city by speedboat to Taiwan.

The group were arrested by the Chinese coastguard on 23 August as they made their way to the island, known as a refuge for Hongkongers.

The court in the southern city of Shenzhen sentenced group leaders Tang Kai-yin to three years in jail and Quinn Moon to two years for "organising an illegal border crossing."

The eight others were sentenced to seven months behind bars for illegally crossing the border.

The 10 were also fined up to 20,000 yuan (2,498 euros) in addition to their jail terms.

A total of 12 people were caught on the boat and the group were facing prosecution in Hong Kong related to last year's protests before attempting their escape.

They will likely be hit with further charges in the city after serving their mainland sentences.

Families notified at last minute

Two minors from the so-called "Hong Kong 12", aged 17 and 18, were returned to the city on Wednesday after they "admitted wrongdoing", Chinese officials said.

The pair face charges of conspiracy to commit arson and possession of an offensive weapon and have been remanded in custody ahead of their next court appearance.

Families of the accused were only notified of the trial date three days before the hearing and were unable to attend due to the short notice and Covid-19 restrictions.

Their lawyers were barred from meeting the detainees, with authorities instead appointing state-approved legal representation.

The sentencing follows the imposition of a sweeping new security law in Hong Kong this year that has given the authorities sweeping powers of prosecution for acts deemed terrorism, secession, subversion or collusion with foreign entities.

A number of activists have fled the city for overseas and political organisations have shuttered their doors as Beijing seeks to keep a lid on protests and unrest that rocked the financial hub for months last year.

The United States called for the immediate release of the group, saying they were "fleeing tyranny".

"Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere," a US embassy spokesperson told AFP.

Amnesty International said in a statement that the group were at risk of torture serving sentences in mainland Chinese jails.

(with AFP)