WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday called for the immediate release of 10 Hong Kong activists who were sentenced to between seven months and three years in jail by a Chinese court.
"The United States strongly condemns the Shenzhen court's actions and calls for the ten members of the group who were sentenced to jail terms to be immediately and unconditionally released," Pompeo said in a statement.
The group had all faced charges in Hong Kong over anti-government protests in the Chinese-ruled city, and they have been held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison since their boat was intercepted on Aug. 23 after leaving Hong Kong, allegedly en route to the democratic island of Taiwan.
The court in the city of Shenzhen, which borders the semi-autonomous former British colony of Hong Kong, found eight of the defendants guilty of the illegal crossing and sentenced them to seven months in jail and a 10,000 yuan ($1,533) fine.
The case has drawn international attention and concern over the defendants' treatment.
"Hong Kong was a thriving territory until the Chinese Communist Party and its local lackeys destroyed its rule of law and eviscerated the Hong Kong people's freedoms," Pompeo said.
"A regime that prevents its own people from leaving can lay no claim to greatness or global leadership. It is simply a fragile dictatorship, afraid of its own people," he added.
Separately, Hong Kong's top court remanded media and publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, the most high-profile person to be charged under the Chinese-ruled city's national security law, in custody until another bail hearing on Feb. 1.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)