Hong Kong teenager returned by China appears in city court on protest-related charges

13 Jan 2021 / 16:06 H.

    HONG KONG, Jan 13 (Reuters) - One of the Hong Kong people detained in China last year for illegal border crossing appeared in one of the city's courts on Wednesday to hear charges of arson and possession of offensive weapons related to the anti-government protests of 2019.

    Hoang Lam Phuc, 17, for whom dozens gathered outside the court to show their support, was part of a group of 12 captured at sea in August 2020 by Chinese authorities as they tried to flee Hong Kong on a speedboat believed to be bound for Taiwan.

    Hoang and another minor were returned by China to Hong Kong on Dec. 30 while the other 10 were sentenced by a court in the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen to between seven months and three years in jail for illegally crossing the border.

    Their virtual incommunicado detention has drawn condemnation from rights groups and the West at a time of growing fears about the city's high degree of autonomy.

    Authorities have denied family and lawyers access to the 12, insisting they be represented by officially appointed lawyers. China has said their "legitimate rights" have been protected and their case was handled according to the law.

    All of the 12 had faced charges in Hong Kong linked to an anti-government protest movement, including rioting and violation of a contentious national security law that China imposed in June 2020.

    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of freedoms not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly. Democracy activists complain that Communist Party rulers in Beijing are whittling away at those freedoms, a charge China rejects.

    Hoang, who did not apply for bail, is remanded in custody and his case will resume on Feb. 26. Prosecutors are looking into whether to press further charges, including absconding and conspiracy to aid criminals. (Reporting by Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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