HONG KONG (AP) — Eight activists detained at sea as they sought to flee Hong Kong by speedboat have finished serving jail sentences in China and were handed over Monday to authorities in Hong Kong, where they may face further prosecution.
The group of eight activists aged 19 to 31 had been jailed in the southern city of Shenzhen, and returned to Hong Kong in batches, according to a police statement Monday. Pro-democracy activist Andy Li was the first of the group to be returned to the city after serving a seven-month prison sentence, according to local newspaper South China Morning Post, which cited an anonymous police source.
The eight men are part of a larger group of 12 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and protesters who were detained at sea in August last year during an ill-fated attempt to reach self-ruled Taiwan. Many of the them were facing prosecution in Hong Kong due to their involvement in anti-government protests that began in mid-2019, and one had been arrested on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security.
They were convicted by a Shenzhen court of illegally crossing the maritime border and sentenced to seven-month jail terms. While Hong Kong is part of China, travelers must still pass through immigration when going to and from the mainland, which surrounds Hong Kong by land and sea.
It is not clear if the eight activists will also be charged in Hong Kong upon their return. Hong Kong police said in a statement that the suspects were returned to the city after the completion of legal proceedings by mainland authorities.
Two of the defendants, Quinn Moon and Tang Kai-yin, remain in prison serving two- and three-year sentences, respectively, for organizing an illegal border crossing.
Two detainees were not charged on the mainland because they were younger than 18 at the time of the arrest; they were handed over to Hong Kong authorities in December.
Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have taken a tougher stance on the city’s pro-democracy movement over the past year, implementing a tough national security law aimed at cracking down on dissent.
In February, 47 pro-democracy activists and lawmakers were charged for subversion under the security law over their involvement in an unofficial primary election that authorities say was part of a plan to paralyze the government. Most of the city’s prominent pro-democracy activists are currently in jail or in self-exile abroad.
Hong Kong was promised it would be allowed to maintain its separate political, economic and social systems for 50 years following the handover, including considerably greater freedoms of speech and protest than permitted in mainland China.
Critics say Chinese moves, including the imposition of the national security law, widespread arrests of critics and the impending changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, have all but nullified that pledge.