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UPDATE 1-Hong Kong police arrest 11 on suspicion of aiding activists' escape attempt -media

14 Jan 2021 / 10:02 H.

    HONG KONG, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Hong Kong police have arrested 11 people over suspected crimes related to assisting a group of 12 pro-democracy activists accused of attempting to flee the city by boat for Taiwan last year, local media and activists reported on Thursday.

    Those arrested, ages 18 to 72, according to local broadcaster RTHK, included eight men and three women.

    Daniel Wong, a lawyer who tried to help the 12 people detained in mainland China last August, was among those arrested.

    Wong wrote on Facebook that police arrived at his apartment at 6 a.m. local time.

    Police told Reuters they were still gathering information and could not make any immediate comment.

    Local media said those arrested were suspected of assisting the 12 Hong Kong residents, who faced charges related to anti-government protests in the Chinese-ruled city in 2019, in their attempt to flee last year.

    In late December, a Chinese court sentenced 10 of them to between seven months and three years in prison for illegally crossing the border, in a case that drew international attention and concern over the treatment of the activists.

    Two, who were minors at the time of arrest, have been returned to Hong Kong.

    The detainees' families said they had been denied access to independent lawyers and aired suspicion that Hong Kong authorities helped in China's arrests.

    Self-ruled Taiwan has become a popular destination for Hong Kong pro-democracy activists since Beijing imposed a national security law in June 2020, a move that critics say is aimed at stamping out dissent and curbing freedoms.

    More than 100 people have now been arrested under the national security law.

    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 China are whittling away at those freedoms, a charge Beijing rejects.

    The United States and European Union have called for the activists to be released and allowed to return to Hong Kong. (Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Donny Kwok; writing by Farah Master. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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