The 12 detainees, aged 16 to 33, were arrested at sea by Chinese coast guards after they set sail from Hong Kong, allegedly trying to escape to Taiwan to claim political asylum. Ten of the group were put on trial on Dec. 28 at the Yantian District People’s Court in southern China’s Shenzhen city, on charges of “suspicion of illegally crossing the border” or “suspicion of organizing others to illegally cross the border.” The remaining two haven’t yet faced trial because they are minors.
At around 6:30 p.m. local time, the court issued a statement saying that verdicts against the ten will be handed down on another unspecified day. It added that local Chinese government officials, journalists, and defendants’ relatives took part in an “open” trial.
The court statement was quickly rejected by the 12 detainees’ families in Hong Kong. In the families’ statement, they said the Dec. 28 trial was a “de facto secret trial” because court officials claimed that the court auditorium was full and didn’t allow the relatives inside. They said the lawyers appointed by Chinese authorities to defend the Hongkongers “refused to answer the family’s calls and respond to the family’s messages.”
The families previously said their detained loved ones were denied access to independent lawyers.
A Reuters reporter wasn’t allowed into the court, nor were diplomats. A concern group supporting the families of those detained also said none of the defendants’ relatives attended the trial.
“The Families of the 12 hereby demand the authorities not to delay the release of the 12 with excuses regarding trial proceedings,” according to the families’ statement.
They added: “Regardless of the future development of the case, the basic rights of the 12 Hongkongers have already been deprived by the Chinese authority. The unfair court proceedings is [sic] evidence of an obvious, draconian political persecution.”
Hours ahead of the Hongkongers’ scheduled court appearance, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson at the consulate in Guangzhou told AFP that he urged Chinese authorities to release them, saying “their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny.”
Reuters contributed to this report.