UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the country is “deeply concerned” over the fate of 12 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who remain in detention in China’s Shenzhen city, 10 of whom were secretly put on trial on Dec. 28.
“We are deeply concerned that members of the Shenzhen 12 were tried in secret today, having been given just three days’ notice of their trial,” Raab said in a statement.
Members of #Shenzhen12 tried in secret today in Shenzhen at just three days’ notice without access to lawyers of their choosing.
China must uphold the rule of law and respect the basic principles of international human rights lawhttps://t.co/oMMYzDROIs
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) December 28, 2020
“Diplomats from Britain and a number of other countries tried to attend the court proceedings but were denied entry,” he said.
The 12 activists, aged from 16 to 33, were captured by Chinese coast guards in August as they set out on a boat to the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
Ten of them were formally charged on Dec. 16 after being held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison for more than three months. They were put on trial at the Yantian District People’s Court in Shenzhen on Monday.
Two were charged with organizing illegal border crossings, while eight others were accused of taking part in a border crossing operation. The court said it will hold closed-door trials to decide on the remaining cases for the two juveniles.
“The Shenzhen 12 have not had access to lawyers of their choosing, raising further serious questions about access to legal counsel in mainland China,” Raab said.
He urged the Chinese regime to “uphold the rule of law and conduct trials in a fair and transparent manner, consistent with the basic requirements of international human rights law.”
Also on Monday, the U.S. embassy in Beijing called on Chinese authorities to immediately release the 12 Hong Kong activists and permit them to depart the country.
“Their so-called ‘crime’ was to flee tyranny. Communist China will stop at nothing to prevent its people from seeking freedom elsewhere,” the embassy said in a statement.
Unlawful border crossing is punishable by up to one year in prison under Chinese law. Organizers of such attempts could face two to seven years, and, in some “especially serious” cases, life imprisonment.
The 12 activists were previously arrested in Hong Kong for their involvement in the pro-democracy movement, which was borne out of discontent last summer over Beijing’s growing encroachment on the city’s autonomy.
Eva Fu and Reuters contributed to this report.