The indictment brought their case closer to court, although no date has been set for their hearings to begin.
A court in the southern city of Shenzhen, where the 12 were held, said in a statement Wednesday that two members of the group were accused of organizing illegal border crossings, while eight were charged with illegal crossing of the border. border. The other two, both minors, will be subject to a closed-door hearing and “decisions will be made in accordance with the law,” the statement said.
According to Chinese criminal law, those found guilty of organizing an illegal border crossing face two to seven years in prison – and in severe cases, life imprisonment. The offense of illegally crossing the border can carry a maximum prison sentence of one year. The Chinese justice system has a conviction rate of around 99%, according to legal observers.
The 12 activists – most of whom were on bail or facing charges in Hong Kong linked to last year’s anti-government protests – boarded a speedboat in the small fishing village of Po Toi O August 23, hoping to follow other people who had fled. to the autonomous island of Taiwan, about 700 kilometers (440 miles).
They have been detained in mainland China since then, while their families have desperately lobbied for their return, claiming the 12 were denied access to a lawyer and were mistreated while in detention in China.
Mainland authorities have said they will “protect the legitimate rights of suspects according to the law” and have provided them with government-appointed lawyers.
Following the court’s announcement on Wednesday, family members of the 12 Hong Kong people released their own statement, saying they wished to attend court hearings. But they fear they won’t be able to arrive on time when trial dates are announced due to the 14-day quarantine requirement to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
In the statement, family members also challenged the arrangement of the government-appointed lawyers.
“Families cannot believe that ‘government appointed lawyers’ are protecting the interests of the Twelve during the trial, and they fear that the ‘government appointed lawyers’ will follow government orders and act against the interests of the Twelve.” , indicates the press release.
Chinese courts – along with prosecutors and police – are overseen by the powerful Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party and its local branches.
Fears over the Chinese justice system and its potential reach in Hong Kong sparked protests last year that led to months of anti-government unrest in the semi-autonomous city.
This year, as protests began to resume following a break forced by a coronavirus, the Chinese government imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, criminalizing sedition, secession and subversion.
The law, which the government says is necessary to restore order, has prompted several prominent activists to flee abroad.
Eric Cheung contributed to this report.