Hong Kong police arrested today several members of a local smuggling group on suspicion of helping 12 residents, currently detained in China, fleeing to Taiwan, reported local press.
Police source told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that nine people were detained during an ongoing operation.
The group of 12 residents, including Chinese university student Tsz Lun Kok, holder of a Portuguese passport, had started the trip to Taiwan, when the motorboat they were traveling on was intercepted on August 23 by the Chinese coast guard.
The group has been detained for almost two months in Shenzhen, a Chinese city adjacent to Hong Kong, added the SCMP. Family members said they had no access to or contact with the detainees, including through lawyers mandated by the families.
Previously, the police had told the SCMP that it was under investigation that a local smuggling group had supplied the group with the boat and defined the route to Taiwan.
Local officials indicated that the motorboat used in the escape was unlikely to be the means of transport to the final destination, admitting that a larger vessel was waiting for the group already outside Chinese waters to continue the rest of the trip to the island.
The arrest of the 11 men and one woman led to increased tension between China and the United States.
Among the 12 detainees, in addition to Kok, is Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Andy Li, 29, previously detained in the region under the new national security law passed by the Chinese regime in late June.
The new diploma makes it possible to punish four types of crimes against state security: subversive activities, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces that endanger national security in Hong Kong.
The Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Portuguese consulate in Macau and Hong Kong said they were following the case, but pointed out that China does not recognize dual nationality for Chinese citizens, which limits any intervention by the Portuguese authorities to the humanitarian domain.
Last Thursday activists and family members of the 12 detainees in Shenzhen demonstrated again in Hong Kong to demand information about the arrests.
The young Portuguese passport holder had already been arrested on 18 November in Hong Kong during the police siege of the territory’s Polytechnic University. Accused of riot, he was later released.
The international community has expressed concerns that the new security law will serve to silence critical voices in Hong Kong.