Five 'scared to death' during escape to Taiwan

Finance | Carine Chow 22 Jun 2021

Five Hong Kong protesters reached the United States after they were smuggled out of the city on an inflatable rubber boat in July last year - a month before 12 others were intercepted by mainland coast guards.

The five men ran into a Taiwanese sea patrol and were taken to Dongsha island before they were sent to Kaohsiung, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Fearing action from Beijing, they were eventually sent on a plane to Zurich and then to New York on January 13.

The five, aged 18 to 26, did not know one another before setting off to Taiwan.

Three of them - a 25-year-old warehouse clerk named Ray, a 22-year-old art student named Tommy and a 26-year-old civil engineer named Kenny - spoke to the Wall Street Journal, saying they each paid about HK$10,000 to buy an inflatable rubber boat with twin engines for the escape.

Ray said he had been hiding after escaping through a railroad track during the siege of the Polytechnic University in November 2019.

Tommy was charged with illegal assembly and rioting and later released on bail with his passport confiscated. Kenny was charged with assaulting a police officer after being arrested in October 2019.

The five men gathered at a remote pier in mid-July last year. Using iPhones and a compass to navigate, the crew learned how to drive the boat with the help of YouTube.

Ray said "we were scared to death" five hours into their escape.

After they finally entered international waters, they cut the engines and signaled SOS with flashlights in the dark. The Taiwanese coast guard appeared an hour later, and took them to Dongsha, an island in the South China Sea near Kaohsiung.

They settled in a secret location in Kaohsiung and were provided with clothing, cigarettes and newspapers.

The Taiwanese authorities refused the men's request to stay in Taiwan as they feared Beijing might use it as an excuse to try to invade Dongsha.

Meanwhile, the US State Department contacted Samuel Chu Muk-man, managing director of the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council, hoping to bring the men to America through humanitarian parole. That is a process which allows people to temporarily enter the United States for urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit.

The five eventually arrived in New York in January and were able to contact their families.

Kenny moved to Washington DC, and cofounded an organization to help protesters from Hong Kong, while Ray and Tommy stayed in New York, hoping to attend college and join the US military.

A month after the men's escape, the Chinese coast guard seized a speedboat and arrested 12 Hongkongers at sea on August 23 last year.

Among the 12 fugitives, eight returned to Hong Kong in late March after serving seven months for illegal crossing into mainland waters. Two underage fugitives also returned to Hong Kong in late December.

Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were sentenced to three and two years for organizing the illegal border crossing, are still remanded in the mainland.

By April, police had arrested about 10,260 people for their roles in the anti-extradition bill movement, 750 of whom have been charged with rioting.

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