More than 60 British MPs and peers have written to Dominic Raab asking him to demand the return of the Hong Kong youth activists detained in mainland China after trying to flee to Taiwan by boat.
In the letter delivered to the Foreign Minister on Thursday evening, lawmakers warned of a profound deterrent effect if Chinese authorities were allowed to “prosecute and imprison Hong Kong activists on the mainland with little outcry or response from the international community”.
On August 23, the Chinese coast guard intercepted a speedboat off Hong Kong, carrying a dozen young people between the ages of 16 and 30 who allegedly tried to seek asylum in Taiwan. Almost all of the passengers faced charges in Hong Kong related to the 2019 protest movement.
Among the group was Andy Li, a young activist who had previously been arrested under Beijing’s national security law on suspicion of foreign collusion. At the end of September, Chinese authorities officially approved the group’s arrest for allegedly crossing Chinese borders illegally.
Families and lawyers for the detainees say the authorities denied the group access to legal assistance, contact with the outside world and, in some cases, medication for medical conditions.
The letter to Raab read: “In view of this, we ask you to call on Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam and your counterpart in Beijing to immediately ensure the return of the twelve activists to Hong Kong, to ensure that they have legal representation of their choice, contact with their families and to guarantee young people access to necessary prescribed drugs.
“It’s a simple matter of natural justice.”
The letter said that allowing China to detain and detain Hong Kong people without international repression would give Beijing a signal that it could use the National Security Law – which broadly describes the crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion but even includes mild acts of dissent – to extradite other militants.
“Once on the mainland, the presumption of guilt and a long prison sentence are virtually guaranteed,” he said.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, deputy chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong, said the group’s decision to flee reflected widespread fear of the implications of the national security law. “The law blatantly violates fundamental human rights principles and undermines the integrity of the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
The letter was signed by parliamentarians from all political walks of life, including Theresa May’s former de facto deputy prime minister Damian Green, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and the chair of the select committee on international development, Sarah Champion.
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat foreign policy spokesperson and signatory of the letter, said the two months of detention and the denial of legal aid and medication were “unacceptable”.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs must make this a diplomatic priority, and the 12 must be sent home immediately.”
The letter said the UK government should also have “special concern” for four members of the group with British Overseas National Passports (BNOs). China does not recognize BNO status or dual nationality and considers Hong Kong people to be Chinese nationals and not entitled to foreign consular assistance.
Duncan Smith, who is also co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said the UK has a legal obligation to defend the people of Hong Kong until 2047, under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that governed the transfer from Hong Kong to China.
“If the UK can’t help these 12 young people, this pledge is not worth the paper it’s printed on,” he said. “Raising cases in diplomatic exchanges is not enough. We need to go further and offer consular assistance. “