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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday called China a “fragile dictatorship” that cannot aspire to “global leadership” after a Chinese court sentenced to prison terms 10 of the 12 Hong Kong people who tried to flee from Hong Kong to Taiwan in August.
Pompeo strongly criticized the sentence handed down by a Chinese court on Wednesday, which sentenced those 10 Hong Kongers to between seven months and three years in prison.
“A regime that prevents its own people from leaving cannot aspire to greatness and global leadership. It is simply a fragile dictatorship, afraid of its own people,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The trial against the so-called “Hong Kong 12” marks the first time that a court in mainland China has tried Hong Kong activists involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations in that semi-autonomous city last year.
The head of U.S. diplomacy said that the trial against the twelve “exposes once again the brutality of Beijing, its flagrant disregard for the international treaties it has signed, and its disdain for the rights of the people of Hong Kong.
“The ‘Hong Kong Twelve’ who tried to escape from tyranny deserved a hero’s welcome abroad, not capture, a secret trial and prison sentences,” Pompeo said.
“The United States strongly condemns the actions of the Shenzhen court and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the ten members of the group who were sentenced to prison terms,” as the European Union (EU) has also requested, he added.
The Yantian District People’s Court in southeastern Shenzhen on Wednesday sentenced the two escape organizers to 3 and 2 years in prison, and another eight sentenced to 7 months in prison for illegal border crossing.
The other two members of the group, who are minors, accepted their charges on Wednesday in a closed-door hearing and were handed over to Hong Kong police.
During the 130 days they were held in custody on the mainland, none of the 12 were able to contact their families or legal representatives of their choice, and lawyers hired by the families reportedly refused to take up the case after receiving threats from Chinese authorities.
The Hong Kongers were arrested while attempting to flee to Taiwan, believing their safety was in jeopardy under the controversial national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last June.
Since the enforcement of this controversial law in June, which provides for sentences of up to life imprisonment for cases of “secession” or “collusion with foreign forces”, among others, there have been numerous police raids and arrests of several prominent Hong Kong activists.
Some of them have opted for exile to try to avoid reprisals for activities that, under the new legislation, could constitute a crime.