MPs urge Dominic Raab to demand China return detained Hong Kong protesters
More than 60 UK MPs and peers have written to Dominic Raab calling on him to demand the return of young Hong Kong activists detained in mainland China after attempting to flee to Taiwan by boat.
In the letter delivered to the foreign secretary on Thursday night, the parliamentarians warned of a profound chilling effect should Chinese authorities be allowed “to prosecute and imprison Hong Kong activists in the mainland with little outcry or response from the international community”.
On 23 August, Chinese coastguards intercepted a speedboat off the coast of Hong Kong, carrying a dozen young people aged 16 to 30 allegedly attempting to seek asylum in Taiwan. Almost all the passengers were facing charges in Hong Kong relating to the 2019 protest movement.
Among the group was Andy Li, a young activist who had previously been arrested under Beijing’s national security law on suspicion of foreign collusion. In late September, Chinese authorities formally approved the arrest of the group, for allegedly illegally crossing China’s borders.
Families and lawyers for the detained say authorities have denied the group access to legal assistance, contact with the outside world, and in some cases medication for medical conditions.
The letter to Raab said: “In view of this, we ask that you call on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and your counterpart in Beijing to immediately ensure the return of the twelve activists to Hong Kong, to guarantee that they have legal representation of their choosing, contact with their families, and to ensure the young people access to necessary prescribed medication.
“This is a simple matter of natural justice.”
The letter said allowing China to detain and hold Hongkongers without international pushback would give Beijing a signal that it could use the national security law – which broadly outlines crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion but includes even benign acts of dissent – to extradite other activists.
“Once in the mainland, the presumption of guilt and a lengthy prison sentence is all but guaranteed,” it said.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, vice chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong, said the group’s decision to flee reflected widespread fear of the implications of the national security law. “The law flagrantly breaches fundamental human rights principles, and compromises the integrity of Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
The letter was signed by parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, including Theresa May’s former de facto deputy prime minister Damian Green, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, and the chair of the international development select committee, Sarah Champion.
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrats foreign policy spokeswoman and signatory to the letter, said the two months’ detention and deprivation of legal assistance and medication was “unacceptable”.
“The foreign secretary must make this a diplomatic priority, and the 12 should be immediately returned home.”
The letter said the UK government should also have “particular concern” for four members of the group with British National Overseas (BNO) passports. China does not recognise BNO status or dual nationals, and considers Hongkongers to be Chinese nationals and not entitled to foreign consular assistance.
Duncan Smith, who is also co-chair for the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said the UK had legal obligations to defend Hong Kong’s people until 2047, under the British Sino Joint Declaration which governed the handover of Hong Kong to China.
“If the UK cannot assist these 12 youths, this commitment isn’t worth the paper upon which it is printed,” he said. “Raising the cases in diplomatic exchanges isn’t enough. We need to go further and offer consular assistance.”