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Hong Kong protesters who tried to flee to Taiwan sentenced to prison in China

Hong Kong protesters who tried to flee to Taiwan sentenced to prison in China
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Ten activists from Hong Kong who attempted to flee the city by speedboat to Taiwan over the summer received prison sentences Wednesday in a Chinese court, ranging from seven months to three years.

Two of the organizers behind the attempted border crossing received the harshest punishment, The Associated Press reported. Relatives said all defendants pleaded guilty in an attempt to receive lighter sentences.

The trial was held in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

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Two minors were also arrested when Chinese authorities stopped the boat. A private hearing found they were too young to face prison charges. Still, Chinese authorities handed the minors back over to police in Hong Kong, where they could face additional charges for absconding.

A State Department spokeswoman on Monday urged Beijing to release the 12 activists and allow them to enter Taiwan, arguing that their "so-called 'crime' was to flee tyranny," CNN reported,

"The treatment by [the People's Republic of China] authorities of these 12 individuals, some of whom are underage, has been appalling," said the spokeswoman. "Beijing authorities continue their campaign to stamp out the remaining rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, falsely equating their system of rule by party decree with the rule of law."

Hong Kong authorities have reportedly frozen assets and issued arrest warrants for numerous government dissenters who have fled from the territory.

The AP reported the punishment inflicted on the 10 activists appeared to be a warning toward opponents of Beijing's new national security law.

“China is a country under rule of law, where laws must be followed and violations must be punished. China’s judicial organs handled the case in strict accordance of law," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a press conference.