HONG KONG—A small group of dissidents climbed into a speedboat and set off from a tiny Hong Kong fishing village just after 7 a.m. on Aug. 23, in a daring attempt to rush 400 miles across major global shipping lanes to safety in Taiwan.
All but one of the 12 people on the boat faced charges related to Hong Kong’s protests, ranging from the widely applied accusation of rioting to far more serious weapons offenses, including charges of making explosives.
They didn’t get far. They were intercepted by China’s coast guard at around 9 a.m.—just 26 miles outside Hong Kong’s territorial waters—according to the city’s police.
The group, which has been held incommunicado in a jail on the mainland since then, has become known as the “Hong Kong 12.” Their situation is fueling fears in Hong Kong about the stark differences between the city’s British-styled courts and the mainland’s opaque legal system. These fears underpinned last year’s protests as well as opposition to a new national security law that was imposed on the city this summer by Beijing.
Their families say they didn’t learn until five days after their capture that they were being held in a detention facility in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong. Ignoring calls for their return to Hong Kong, Chinese authorities last week made their arrest official and are preparing for prosecution on the mainland.