Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Dec. 31 over its decision to hand down prison sentences to 10 Hongkongers who were arrested at sea in August by China’s coast guard.
The 10 people, along with two teen minors, were trying to flee Hong Kong via mainland China in a boat to self-ruled Taiwan when they were arrested on Aug. 23. Two of the “Hong Kong 12” have been sentenced to three and two years prison by a Chinese court on Wednesday for “organizing others to illegally cross the border.”
The eight others who are over the age of 18 were sentenced to seven months imprisonment for “illegally crossing the border.” The Chinese court did not press charges against the two teens, and repatriated them back to Hong Kong on Wednesday. However, Hong Kong police have said that the two youngers may face additional charges for absconding.
“The CCP’s persecution of the Hong Kong 12 … exposes once again Beijing’s brutality, blatant disregard for the international treaties it has signed, and its disdain for the rights of the Hong Kong people,” Pompeo said, according to a statement.
The Hong Kong 12 had no bail, no choice of lawyer, and no access to family. This is a stark preview of the future of justice in a Hong Kong stripped of its protections under an authoritarian “One Country, One System” framework. #FightForFreedom #HK12
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 31, 2020
Pompeo also critized the CCP and its “local lackeys” in Hong Kong for destroying the city’s rule of law and stripping away people’s freedoms. Hong Kong was a former British colony before it was handed back to China’s communist regime in 1997.
He added: “The ‘Hong Kong 12’ who tried to flee this tyranny deserved a hero’s welcome abroad, not capture, a secret trial, and prison sentences.”
There has been a significant exodus of Hongkongers since the pro-democracy movement escalated in June 2019, when millions took to the street in opposition of a bill that would allow Beijing to extradite people in Hong Kong for trials in politicized Chinese courts. Many have since left Hong Kong out of fear that they could be persecuted for their roles in the movement following the passage of Beijing’s national security law.
Taiwan is one of the top destinations for Hongkongers fleeing their city. According to statistics from the Taiwan government, 5,858 Hongkongers applied for residency in Taiwan in 2019, an increase of 41 percent from 2018. The total jumped to 7,474 for the first ten months of this year.
“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,” Pompeo added.
He called on Beijing to immediately and unconditionally release the 10 Hongkongers who remain in the country.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) also called on the Hongkongers’ unconditional release via Twitter on Dec. 30. The commission said the 10 were “exercising the freedom of movement guaranteed to HKers” by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Article 12 of the ICCPR stated: “Everyone lawfully within the territory of a state shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.”
Benedict Rogers, chief executive of British NGO Hong Kong Watch, expressed concern about the potential for mistreatment of the 10 Hongkongers in Chinese jails.
“There is a risk that the ten activists who have been charged could be tortured or face ill-treatment in jail,” Rogers stated in a Dec. 30 statement.
He warned the case could be a precedent for an alarming future. He explained: “It also could pave the way for more Hong Kong pro-democracy activists to be extradited and tried in the mainland.
“We urge the international community to continue to push for their release and return to Hong Kong and for coordinated and firm action against the continued deterioration of Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedoms, and way of life,” Rogers concluded.