The Foreign Ministry claimed on Sunday that 12 Hong Kong people detained as they tried to flee to Taiwan by speedboat are "separatists" who have been trying to split Hong Kong from China.
Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the allegation on Twitter as she fired back at her counterpart at the US State Department, Morgan Ortagus, who condemned the detention of the 12 on the mainland.
"Legitimate governments do not need to wall their countries in and prevent their citizens from leaving. The arrest of 12 Hong Kong democracy activists is another sad example of the deterioration of human rights in Hong Kong," Ortagus had tweeted on Saturday.
In response, Hua dismissed the claim that the 12 are merely activists.
"Seriously?! Fact check: The 12 people were arrested for illegally crossing the border in waters. They are not democratic activists, but elements attempting to separate Hong Kong from China," she wrote.
Meanwhile, police in Shenzhen confirmed on Sunday that the Hongkongers were under criminal detention in the city's Yantian District on suspicion of illegally crossing the border.
A brief statement said the police's investigation was ongoing.
"Police will protect the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects in accordance with the law," the statement said.
The 12 were arrested three weeks ago by the Guangdong coastguard and taken to Shenzhen. Eleven of them had previously been charged with protest-related offences in the SAR, and one had been arrested under the national security law.
On Saturday, family members of some of the activists held a press conference where they complained they had not heard from them since the arrests.
The relatives said those in detention had been denied access to their chosen lawyers and they accused the SAR government of being indifferent to their plight.
The Hong Kong government has issued a statement saying it respects the law enforcement actions of other jurisdictions and will not be intervening in the case.
Captured Hongkongers are separatists, says Beijing
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