Family members of 12 Hong Kong detainees hold a news conference on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)
Hong Kong says it will stay away from Chinaís detention of a dozen individuals it calls "separatists" who sought to flee to Taiwan, arguing that handling the case is within the jurisdiction of mainland China.
Hong Kong authorities said Sunday that they had received pleas from the families of 12 residents, who were detained last month by Chinese law enforcement for illegal entry into the mainland as they were trying to flee to Taiwan by sea.
They are now being held in Shenzhen and face possible charges of immigration violations and human smuggling.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a Twitter message on Sunday that the detainees, ranging in age from 16 to 33, were "elements attempting to separate Hong Kong from China."
The families of six detainees held a news conference in Hong Kong on Saturday, calling for the return of the 12, who were detained on August 23 on a boat bound for Taiwan.
They were wearing masks, sunglasses and hooded jackets in an effort to maintain anonymity.
The Hong Kong government ruled out any interference in the case on Sunday, saying that their "crime falls within the jurisdiction of the mainland."
It reiterated that "the special administrative region government respects and will not interfere with law enforcement actions."
Hong Kong said the group was suspected of committing "various criminal offenses" in the city.
The regional government has also called on the families to make use of free legal consultation services being offered to them.
The arrests were made after China imposed a security law on Hong Kong that criminalizes sedition, secession, and subversion against the mainland -- offenses punishable by sentences of up to life in prison.
The new law allows Chinese national security institutions to operate in the city for the first time since 1997, when Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule.
The city has been governed under the "one-country, two-systems" model since then, meaning that Chinese sovereignty is applied even as the city has its own government.
The United States, Britain, and other Western countries have criticized the law and have moved to take action against Beijing and Hong Kong. China has condemned their stances, saying Hong Kong is a purely internal Chinese affair.
Referring to the latest arrests, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that Washington was "deeply concerned" that the detainees had "been denied access to lawyers of their choice."
Taiwan detains 5 Hong Kong residents
In a related development, Taiwan has been holding five people from Hong Kong in detention, Reuters reported, citing familiar sources.
The five were who fled Hong Kong by boat, made it to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the northern end of the South China Sea last month
They are currently held at a Taiwan coast guard facility in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, according to Taiwan security sources.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau, however, said it had not received any information from Taiwan, nor any request from families for help.
But police have made inquiries with the Taiwan authorities and are awaiting a reply, it added.
"We call on Taiwan to take responsibility for combating cross-border crimes. If they are suspected of committing crimes in Hong Kong, they should not harbor criminals," said Security Secretary John Lee.
The semi-autonomous island has said it is open to separatists from Hong Kong to enter legally.
Chinaís official newspaper, The Global Times, however wrote on Monday that the detention of the five showed Taipeiís pledges to help Hong Kongers was "fake."
Hong Kong was rocked by violent protests over a bill that would have reformed its extradition law last year.
Rioters vandalized the city, destroying public and private property and attacking anyone deemed to be pro-government. Hong Kong dropped that bill, but acts of violence continued.
The Chinese government says the United States and Britain fanned the flames of that unrest in Hong Kong by supporting the protesters.