Relatives of some of the 12 Hong Kong people captured by China at sea as they tried to flee by boat asked authorities on Dec. 21 to give them 20-days’ notice of their trial so they can attend.
The 11 men and one woman were intercepted by the Chinese coastguard on Aug. 23 on a boat, believed to be bound for Taiwan. All had faced charges in Hong Kong linked to pro-democracy protests in the former British colony, including rioting and violation of a national security law China imposed in June.
They face charges of illegally crossing the border and organizing an illegal crossing, which could carry a sentence of up to seven years.
Their case has attracted a lot of interest in Hong Kong as a rare instance of Chinese authorities arresting people trying to leave at a time of growing fears about prospects for the city’s high degree of autonomy.
The 12 await trial in the mainland city of Shenzhen. Two underage suspects will undergo private hearings.
Trial dates have not been announced and the relatives said that given a 14-day quarantine period upon entering mainland China because of the coronavirus, those hoping to attend the trail would need longer notice than normal.
“We’re worried that the Chinese authorities will use the pandemic as an excuse … to prevent us from attending … and the hearings will thus be equivalent to a secret trial,” they said in a joint statement.
They asked to be given notice 20 days before the trial and that it be broadcast online, foreign diplomats be allowed to observe and all records be made public.
Chinese authorities have denied family and lawyers access to the 12, insisting they be represented by officially appointed lawyers.
The relatives reiterated on Dec. 21 their request to be allowed to speak to their loved ones.
“Our hearts are heavy,” the wife of detainee Wong Wai-Yin told reporters outside the Hong Kong Immigration Department.
Unlike in Hong Kong, where the justice system is independent and based on common law, mainland courts are loyal to the Communist Party and do not challenge the party’s accusations. Conviction rates are close to 100 percent.