HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police said on Saturday they had arrested nine people suspected of helping 12 Hong Kong activists who fled the city in August, heading for Taiwan, only to be intercepted by Chinese authorities and held on the mainland.

The dozen, accused of crimes tied to anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, are being detained in the southern city of Shenzhen after authorities intercepted their boat and accused them of illegal border crossing.

Superintendent Ho Chun-tung, of the police’s organised crime and triad bureau, said they had arrested four males and five females, suspected of arranging transport for the 12 fugitives.

He did not rule out the possibility of further arrests.

The police also seized HK$500,000 ($64,500) in cash, computers, mobile phones, and documents related to the purchase of a boat, Ho said.

The detainees’ case has grabbed international headlines and human rights groups have raised concerns. The families say the detainees have been denied access to independent lawyers.

Hong Kong authorities have said the 12 will be represented by mainland lawyers chosen by the detainees from a list provided by Chinese authorities, and that they have offered “needed and feasible” assistance to the families and will continue to do so.

People began fleeing to Taiwan from the early months of the Hong Kong protests last year, mostly legally by air, but sometimes by fishing boat, activists in Taipei who have helped Hong Kong citizens obtain visas, have told Reuters.

This has caused a dilemma for Taiwan, which has promised assistance to the people of Hong Kong but is wary of antagonising China.

($1 = 7.7499 Hong Kong dollars)

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