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Chinese Court Sentences 10 Hong Kong Democracy Activists To Prison Terms

A court on China's mainland sentenced 10 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists to up to three years in prison Wednesday. In the closely watched case, the activists tried this summer to flee to Taiwan via speedboat — but they were intercepted at sea and detained in China.

The main charge against the group was that it sought to cross an international border illegally. But rather than return the activists to Hong Kong — where the police have deemed them fugitives — Chinese authorities opted to detain and prosecute them on the mainland.

The Yantian District People's Court in Shenzhen imposed the toughest punishment on Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were accused of organizing the trip. They are to serve three years and two years, respectively, along with a fine of up to around $3,000.

Eight other activists were ordered to spend seven months in prison and pay smaller fines. All of the sentences include the nearly four months the activists have already spent in custody, the South China Morning Post reported.

Two minors who were in the original group of 12 fugitives were returned to Hong Kong for trial, according to the South China Morning Post. The Global Times, a newspaper published by the Chinese Communist Party, said the trial would be closed to the public because of their age. The pair were handed over Wednesday to Hong Kong's police, which said they face charges, including arson.

The sentencing comes after rights groups, the U.S. and other countries said China's authorities had failed to ensure a fair legal process for the detainees, such as allowing them access to lawyers of their own choosing.

"The Hong Kong 12 had no bail, no choice of lawyer, and no access to family," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said via Twitter. "This is a stark preview of the future of justice in a Hong Kong stripped of its protections under an authoritarian 'One Country, One System' framework."

Most of the activists who fled were already facing criminal charges linked to pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong, where Beijing has been tightening its control over the territory's political and legal institutions. They left Hong Kong shortly after China's central government imposed a tough new national security law on the territory.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.