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Relatives of the 10 Hong Kongers accused of fleeing the city by speedboat during a government crackdown on dissent say they've been informed that their family members pleaded guilty, according to a support group.

The families of the detainees were informed by court-appointed lawyers Tuesday that a court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen will deliver the verdicts on Wednesday, according to the 12 Hongkongers Concern Group, which is assisting the families.

It was not clear whether the 10 would also be sentenced on Wednesday, but Chinese courts often issue sentences at the same time as verdicts.

The 10 defendants all faced charges of illegally crossing the border, while two of them faced additional charges of organizing the attempt, according to an indictment issued in Shenzhen. The trials began on Monday afternoon, according to a statement issued by the Shenzhen Yantian District court.

Separate hearings were expected for two minors who were also aboard the boat that was apparently heading for Taiwan when it was stopped by the Chinese coast guard on Aug. 23.

The defendants are believed to have feared they would be prosecuted for their past activities in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Hong Kong media reports said at least one may have had a warrant out for his arrest under a tough new national security law imposed on the semi-autonomous territory by Beijing in June.

Relatives of the defendants say that they have been prevented from hiring their own lawyers and that the accusations are politically motivated. The defendants can be sentenced to up to a year in prison for crossing the border and seven years for organizing the trip.

They were picked up after entering mainland Chinese waters for crossing the maritime border without permission. While Hong Kong is part of China, travelers must still pass through immigration when going to and from the mainland. The defendants apparently needed to pass through Chinese waters to get to open seas.




A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison on charges of “picking fights and provoking trouble,” one of her lawyers said.

The Pudong New Area People’s Court in the financial hub of Shanghai gave the sentence to Zhang Zhan following accusations she spread false information, gave interviews to foreign media, disrupted public order and “maliciously manipulated” the outbreak.

Lawyer Zhang Keke confirmed the sentence but said it was “inconvenient” to provide details ? usually an indication that the court has issued a partial gag order. He said the court did not ask Zhang whether she would appeal, nor did she indicate whether she would.

Zhang, 37, traveled to Wuhan in February and posted on various social media platforms about the outbreak that is believed to have emerged in the central Chinese city late last year.

She was arrested in May amid tough nationwide measures aimed at curbing the outbreak and heavy censorship to deflect criticism of the government’s initial response. Zhang reportedly went on a prolonged hunger strike while in detention, prompting authorities to forcibly feed her, and is said to be in poor health.

China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of crucial information, allowing the virus to spread and contributing to the pandemic that has sickened more than 80 million people worldwide and killed almost 1.8 million. Beijing vigorously denies the accusations, saying it took swift action that bought time for the rest of the world to prepare.

China’s ruling Communist Party tightly controls the media and seeks to block dissemination of information it hasn’t approved for release. In the early days of the outbreak, authorities reprimanded several Wuhan doctors for “rumor-mongering” after they alerted friends on social media. The best known of the doctors, Li Wenliang, later succumbed to COVID-19.



A late-term maneuver by President Donald Trump to use lower drug prices paid overseas to limit some of Medicare’s own costs suffered a legal setback Wednesday that appears likely to keep the policy from taking effect before the president leaves office.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore issued a nationwide injunction that prevents the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, from carrying out the so-called “most favored nations” rule as scheduled on Jan. 1. The judge wrote in her temporary order that CMS had failed to follow required procedures for notice and comment before imposing such sweeping changes.

The Trump regulation would tie what Medicare pays for certain drugs administered in a doctor’s office to the lowest price paid among a group of economically advanced countries. It would apply to 50 medications that account for the highest spending under Medicare’s “Part B” benefit for outpatient care.

That group includes cancer drugs and other medications delivered by infusion or injection. Trump announced his new policy at the White House before the Thanksgiving holiday, saying, “the drug companies don’t like me too much. But we had to do it.”

A coalition of groups including the Association of Community Cancer Centers and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American quickly sued to block the rule. Some opponents have likened the Trump policy to a form of socialist price controls.

Blake wrote that the plaintiffs had established a reasonable likelihood their arguments accusing the administration of cutting corners in a rush to regulate would carry the day in a trial. Federal law says that government agencies must provide adequate opportunity for affected parties to comment on proposed regulations. The administration had sought to use emergency authority as a work-around.

The case is hardly trivial, the judge said. “This case deals with a regulation that would for the first time implement the use of a price control mechanism not provided for by Congress,” Blake wrote.

The Health and Human Services department said it is reviewing the ruling, and had no immediate comment.

Trump came into office accusing drug companies of “getting away with murder” and promising to slash costs for American patients. But his administration was unable to drive major drug pricing legislation through Congress.

Even if the Trump rule is ultimately blocked, the idea of using international prices to lower costs for Americans is very much alive. It’s at the heart of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legislation to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices. And President-elect Joe Biden also supports the approach.

Blake was nominated to be a U.S. district judge by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.

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