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China sentences ten democracy activists to prison terms

A court in the Chinese mainland has sentenced 10 pro-democracy activists with prison terms after an attempt to flee Hong Kong by speedboat. The sentences, issued from the Yantian District Court in Shenzhen, range from several months to three years in prison. According to the Associated Press, all defendants specifically pleaded guilty so as to receive lighter sentences. Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were accused by the court of having organized the failed flight from the city, will serve three and two years, respectively. The other eight passengers onboard received lighter sentences of seven months, in addition to a 10,000 yuan fine (about $2000 CND).

While Hong Kong pro-China politicians have suggested that the Shenzhen ruling was too lenient, supporters of pro-democracy activism are calling the sentence excessively harsh.

“Seven months was longer than what I thought,” said the mother of Li Tsz-yin, one of the eight handed the seven-month sentences. “I will go to see him, so I want to know when, where and how frequently I can do so.”

Illegal border crossings between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong (where a different political system applies) is a punishable offense with a maximum sentence of one year in prison. According to the South China Morning Post, those organizing illegal border crossings can face up to seven years’ jail, whereas those running "cross-border syndicates can be sentenced to life in prison."

Although the eight will finish their jail terms on March 24 (as they have already been in custody for more than four month), additional charges may await Liu Tsz-man and Hoang Lam-phuc, two of the eight onboard. Both participated in the pro-democracy riots that erupted last March. Liu was previously charged with conspiracy to commit arson with intent and criminal damage. Hoang was charged with arson with intent and possession of offensive weapons.

“In addition to facing the original charges, the two suspects may also be charged with other offences such as refusing court orders to face trial,” noted chief superintendent Cheng Lai-ki of the Commercial Crime Bureau.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the ongoing situation in the former British colony (handed over to China in 1997), stating that the "defendants had been “tried in secret” and denied access to lawyers of their choice."

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