A Police van carrying detained Hong Kong activist arrives at Tin Shui Wai police station in Hong Kong, China. Reuters
Eight Hong Kong democracy activists detained in China last year for illegally crossing the border were due back in the city on Monday after completing jail terms, in a case that drew international attention and concern over their treatment.
They were among 12 activists whose boat was intercepted at sea by mainland authorities in August 2020 allegedly en route to the democratic island of Taiwan.
All had faced charges in Hong Kong over the pro-democracy protest movement and are expected to be taken directly into custody on their return.
Among the eight is Andy Li, arrested under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the Asian financial hub in June 2020 that critics say is aimed at crushing dissent.
In December, a Chinese court sentenced 10 of the 12 to between seven months and three years in jail. Defendants Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were sentenced to three and two years, respectively, remain in Shenzhen.
Two minors who were among the 12 pleaded guilty to illegally crossing the border and were returned to Hong Kong in December.
During the detention of the 12 in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, mainland authorities denied their families and lawyers access, insisting they be represented by officially appointed lawyers, provoking criticism from rights groups.
Pro-democracy activists began fleeing Hong Kong for democratic Taiwan from the early months of the protests in 2019, most of them legally by air, but some by boat, activists in Taipei have told Reuters.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of freedoms not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
Democracy activists complain that Communist Party rulers in Beijing are whittling away at those freedoms, a charge China rejects.
Since Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong, scores of democracy campaigners have been arrested, some elected legislators have been disqualified and others have fled overseas.
Four prominent leaders of Hong Kong’s democracy movement were jailed on Wednesday for their role in organising mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralysed the city for months and infuriated Beijing.
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.
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