BEIJING: Chinese authorities formally approved the arrests on Wednesday (Sep 30) of 12 Hong Kong activists caught last month while allegedly trying to flee the city for Taiwan.

The group was snared some 70km southeast of the city on Aug 23 while trying to escape by boat, authorities said at the time, adding that they were handed to police in Shenzhen, the mainland metropolis bordering Hong Kong.

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They had since disappeared into China's opaque judicial system, with lawyers struggling to access them and family members expressing fear over their fate.

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On Wednesday the People's Procuratorate of Yantian District in Shenzhen said it had approved the arrests.

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Two of the detainees, referred to as Deng and Qiao respectively, were arrested on suspicion of helping the others escape Hong Kong.

These names were likely to refer to the Chinese surnames of detainees Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon.

The other 10 – including suspects surnamed Li and Huang – were arrested for making illegal border crossings.

The case remained under investigation, the statement said.

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Some of those aboard the boat were facing prosecution in Hong Kong for activities linked to last year's huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.

Lu Siwei, one of the mainland lawyers working on the case, told AFP the period of detention for investigation could last up to seven months.

"Review of (the) detention's legality can be applied for any time," Lu added, but said that "for now it remains most important to seek a meeting with the 12 in custody".

At least 14 mainland lawyers hired by the detainees' families have been pressured by authorities to drop their clients, according to activists.

None of the lawyers have managed to see their clients in custody, while senior officials in Hong Kong said the 12 were assigned lawyers by mainland Chinese authorities.

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