Lawyers hired to represent some of the 12 Hong Kong activists detained by the China Coast Guard as they tried to flee to the democratic island of Taiwan by speedboat on Aug. 23 have once more been denied permission to visit their clients in detention.
The activists, aged 16 to 33, are being held in Yantian Detention Center in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on suspicion of "illegally crossing a border," as concerns grow over their continuing incommunicado detention, a known risk factor for torture and other forms of mistreatment in China's criminal justice system.
Lawyers hired by the families of Lee Yu-hin, Kiu Ying-yu, Wong Lam-fok, Kok Tsz-lun, and Tang Kai-yin, were turned away by detention center staff on Thursday, the latest in a string of unsuccessful attempts by defense attorneys for the group in recent weeks.
"Our application for meetings with our clients was turned down by the Yantian Detention Center, which in our view is illegal," Kok's attorney Lin Qilei told RFA on Thursday.
Lin said he was unable to confirm claims from detention center staff that the lawyers' clients had agreed to allow two lawyers appointed by the Chinese government to act for them instead, a move that has typically been made by detainees acting under duress.
"We strongly suspect that these reports are fake," Lin said. "We have lodged a formal complaint with the state prosecutor, and with the police at a higher level."
Lawyers representing Lee, Kiu, Wong, and Tang were also denied access to their clients at the same time, with the same claim made of their clients.
'No legal validity'
Lu Tingge, a lawyer hired by Wong's family, said the claim was even more suspicious in the case of his client, who is still a minor.
"Wong Lam-fok is a minor, so any instruction made by him to lawyers has no legal validity," Lu said. "I came here to Yantian Detention Center today to meet with my client, but was refused entry."
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Wong is 17, and should only have been detained as a last resort, and for the shortest possible time, under international law.
"Every detained child has the right to maintain contact with his or her family through visits and correspondence ... and prompt access to legal ... assistance," the group said in a statement in September.
Kok, 18, a student at the University of Hong Kong, is a dual Hong Kong-Portugal national, and should be allowed consular visits while in detention, HRW said.
The families of the "Hong Kong 12" say supporters in Taiwan will rally for the release of the detainees in a march in Taipei at the weekend.
Rally organizer Lee Peng-hsuan called for international support for the detainees, whose incommunicado detention and lack of transparency around their arrests put them at risk of torture.
"We want to use this demonstration to get the Taiwanese government to fully implement its pledge of aid to Hongkongers in their hour of need," Lee said.
"We need to help those we can help, and set out a clearly delineated and confidential pathway [for refugees], as well as protecting their rights once they are in Taiwan," she said.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong second-in-command Matthew Cheung hit out at Germany for granting political asylum to a former Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) student who fled the city following a siege by Hong Kong's riot police, who fired more than 1,000 rounds of tear gas on campus in the course of a single day.
Cheung said he had called the Germany Consul General to a meeting to protest at the move.
"The Hong Kong ... government strongly objects to the harboring of a criminal by other jurisdictions under various pretexts," Cheung told lawmakers in Hong Kong.
" Individuals should be responsible for his or her illegal actions," he said.
Demands for details rejected
Meanwhile, secretary for security John Lee once more rejected lawmakers' demands to release operational details of flights made by government aircraft during the Aug. 23 seizure of the speedboat and the detention of the 12 activists at sea, the Apple Daily newspaper reported.
Lee repeatedly labeled the group “criminal suspects” and accused Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong of encouraging people to skip bail and leave town.
Hong Kong police commissioner Chris Tang claimed on Aug. 27 that the 12 weren't detained as part of a cross-border operation, adding that they hadn't contacted the Chinese authorities about the incident until Aug. 28.
Police later cited a "reply" from Guangdong police on Sept. 25 confirming the seizure of a speedboat "suspected of illegally crossing the border."
But flight records accessed since then by democracy activists and RFA show that the police were lying, and likely collaborated with the mainland authorities to intercept the speedboat.
Data obtained from the flight tracking website FlightAware showed that two Hong Kong government aircraft, the fixed-wing plane B-LVB and and the H175 Cheetah helicopter B-LVH, flew around, and to and from the area where the activists were arrested on the morning of Aug. 23.
Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.