China arrests 12 fleeing Hong Kong by speedboat

Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung speaks at the Marine Police Regional Headquarters in Hong Kong. (AP pic)

HONG KONG: A dozen people fleeing Hong Kong on a speedboat, including an activist arrested under the draconian new national security law, have been captured by China, police in the city said Friday.

The boat was intercepted by the coastguard, police said, with local media saying it was en route to Taiwan, a self-ruled island that regularly offers sanctuary to people escaping the authoritarian mainland.

Multiple media reports said the 12 included Andy Li, who was arrested earlier this month for alleged collusion with foreign forces — a crime under the new Beijing-imposed law that carries a possible life sentence.

The pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said others onboard included several arrested for their part in the sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that wracked Hong Kong for much of 2019.

Beijing imposed its swingeing national security law in June after tiring of the protests.

Overnight, certain opinions and expressions in previously free-wheeling Hong Kong became illegal, and activists have spoken of a deep chilling effect that has seen books yanked from libraries and publishers rush to amend their titles.

Hong Kong’s administration insists the law has not impinged on the rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed to the territory when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

But a number of pro-democracy figures have left the city since it came into effect, fearful that they may be swept up in a Beijing dragnet and disappear into the mainland’s opaque and Communist Party-run justice system.

Before the new law was imposed in response to the huge protests that erupted in June 2019, Hong Kong police had arrested more than 9,000 people, among whom more than 600 were charged with rioting, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

At least 50 former Hong Kong protesters had already applied for asylum in various jurisdictions before the coronavirus pandemic ended most international travel. Hundreds more have relocated to democratic Taiwan.

Hong Kong police said the 12, aged between 16 and 33, were being held by mainland authorities.

They gave no details on when they would be handed back to Hong Kong.