The court said it had held a private hearing for two underaged suspects and would not charge the them for illegally crossing the border even though they pleaded guilty.

Pro-democracy supporters protest to urge for the release of 12 Hong Kong activists arrested as they reportedly sailed to Taiwan for political asylum and citizen journalist Zhang Zhan outside China's Liaison Office, in Hong Kong, China on December 28, 2020
Pro-democracy supporters protest to urge for the release of 12 Hong Kong activists arrested as they reportedly sailed to Taiwan for political asylum and citizen journalist Zhang Zhan outside China's Liaison Office, in Hong Kong, China on December 28, 2020 (Reuters)

A Chinese court has sentenced 10 anti-Beijing activists who sought to flee Hong Kong by speedboat earlier this year to between seven months and three years in prison.

The Yantian District Court in the southern city of Shenzhen gave the harshest sentence to one of the two accused organisers of the ill-fated August 23 attempt to reach Taiwan.

The defendants are believed to have feared they would be prosecuted for their activities in support of Hong Kong’s anti-Beijing movement. 

Hong Kong media reports said at least one may have had a warrant out for his arrest under Beijing's tough new national security law imposed on the semi-autonomous Chinese territory in June.

The court said it had held a private hearing for two underaged suspects and would not charge the them for illegally crossing the border even though they pleaded guilty.

Another organiser was given two years while other participants were given seven months in prison.

READ MORE: More arrests in Hong Kong as crackdown on dissent continues

"Politically motivated" 

Relatives of the defendants said they were prevented from hiring their own lawyers and that the accusations are politically motivated. The defendants can be sentenced to up to a year in prison for crossing the border and seven years for organising the trip.

The sentences appear to be a warning to opposition activists against trying to evade provisions of the national security law.

Hong Kong has already frozen assets and issued arrest warrants for several government opponents who have fled abroad, including to the United Kingdom, which governed the territory until the handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong was promised it would be allowed to maintain its separate political, economic and social systems for 50 years following the handover, including considerably greater freedoms of speech and protest than permitted in mainland China.

Critics say Chinese moves, including the imposition of the national security law, widespread arrests of critics and the cancellation of elections for the Legislative Council, have all but nullified that pledge.

READ MORE: Hong Kong arrests several for violating security law at university protest

Source: AP