Hong Kong police say they have arrested nine people suspected of helping 12 activists who fled the city in August, heading for Taiwan, but were intercepted by Chinese authorities and held on the mainland.
The group of nine arrested on Saturday included four men and five women, some of whom had been previously arrested for participating in the massive protests that threw the financial hub into turmoil last year, were taken into custody for “assisting offenders”.
“Their roles include ownership of the boat, financial backing, providing accommodation before the trip, transportation to the pier and arranging their lives after arriving in Taiwan,” a police spokesperson told reporters.
China’s coast guard intercepted a boat transporting the 12 Hongkongers to Taiwan in late August and their plight grabbed international attention, with human rights groups raising concern as their families said they were denied access to independent lawyers, and aired suspicion that Hong Kong authorities helped in China’s arrests.
Accused of crimes tied to anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, the group is being detained in China’s southern city of Shenzhen.
Hong Kong police official, Ho chun-Tung, dismissed accusations that police in the city played a role in the arrests of the 12.
“The arrests on the mainland had nothing to do with the Hong Kong police,” Ho added.
Police also seized HK$500,000 in cash, computers, mobile phones, and documents related to the purchase of a boat.
People began fleeing Hong Kong for self-ruled Taiwan from the early months of the protests, most of them legally, by air, but some by fishing boat, activists in Taipei who helped Hong Kong citizens get visas have told Reuters.
Hong Kong authorities have said those detained are to be represented by mainland lawyers of their choice, albeit from a list provided by Chinese authorities.
Their families have been offered “needed and feasible” assistance, which will continue, the authorities have said.