HONG KONG (AP) — Relatives of 12 Hong Kong activists detained at sea by Chinese authorities called Saturday for their family members to be returned to the territory, saying their legal rights were being violated.
At an emotional news conference, the group said their relatives should be allowed to meet with lawyers they themselves have hired, not those appointed by Chinese authorities, They also said they should be provided with needed medications, be allowed to call their families and eventually be allowed to return to Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government has not provided any sort of concrete assistance, leading the families to come forward to urge authorities to help, said pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu, who hosted the news conference.
“Their families have no news of them and even own appointed lawyers have been unable to see the detainees,” Chu said.
The relatives wore masks, hoods, sunglasses, jackets and hats to hide their identities in front of the television cameras.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the U.S. was “deeply concerned” that the 12 had been denied access to the lawyers of their choice, along with the lack of information about their welfare and the charges against them.
“We question Chief Executive Lam’s stated commitment to protecting the rights of Hong Kong residents, and call on authorities to ensure due process,” Pompeo said, referring to Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader.
Lam said Tuesday that the 12 must be “dealt with according to mainland laws” if arrested for breaking Chinese law.
The detention of the 12, who include a 16-year-old boy, follows China’s imposition of a sweeping new national security law on the former British colony, which was wracked by months of anti-government protests last year. Critics say the law amounts to a major crackdown on free speech and political activity by the opposition and further erodes the civil liberties promised to Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” principle in place since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
The 12 were reportedly seeking to make it to the self-governing island of Taiwan by speedboat when they were caught by the Chinese coast guard and detained in the southern city of Shenzhen on Aug. 23. They have been held incommunicado since then.
Thousands were arrested during the protest movement and others continue to be sought by Hong Kong and mainland authorities. The new security law bans secessionist, subversive and terrorist activities, as well as collusion with foreign forces, with penalties of up to life imprisonment.