Amid extreme protests and boycotts, the Hong Kong government Saturday suspended the controversial legislation which allowed extradition of some suspects to stand trial in mainland China. The decision was announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in a press conference, who said that the bill has caused intense division in the society and she had heard the calls for her government to “pause and think.”
According to Reuters, support for the extradition bill began to crumble on Friday with several pro-Beijing politicians and a senior advisor to Lam saying discussion of the bill should be shelved for the time being.
“I have to admit in terms of explanation and communication, there were inadequacies. We have to bear in mind the greatest interests of Hong Kong,” Lam was quoted as saying by BBC.
The chief executive had previously said the extradition law is necessary to prevent criminals using Hong Kong as a place to hide and that human rights will be protected by the city’s court which will decide on case-by-case basis extradition.
‘A threat to rule of law’
The extradition bill, which would cover Hong Kong’s 7 million residents as well as foreign and Chinese nationals in the city, was seen by many as a threat to the rule of law in the former British colony. Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill had spooked some of Hong Kong’s tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers, bankers and lawyers familiar with the details, Reuters reported.
Last Sunday’s protest in the former British colony was the biggest political demonstration since its return to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal. The agreement guarantees Hong Kong’s special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, free press and an independent judiciary.
People in large number came out on streets in protests against the law last Sunday and conducted wide demonstrations resulting in a confrontation with the security forces. Street demonstrations through the week were met with tear gas and rubber bullets from police, plunging the city into turmoil and piling heavy pressure on Lam. Another protest was planned for this Sunday.
Many accuse Beijing of extensive meddling in Hong Kong, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders, news agency Reuters had reported.
Though, the Chinese government has denied that it has overreached in Hong Kong, it had earlier described the mass protests against the extradition bill as “riots”, adding that it supported the local government’s response. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang earlier this week told news agency AFP that the largely peaceful protests were “an act that undermines Hong Kong’s stability. We support the Hong Kong government’s dealing with the situation in accordance with the law.”
How other nations reacted
The United States Consulate in Hong Kong has welcomed Carrie Lam’s decision to suspend the proposed extradition law. The statement came after Lam said the government was backing down in a dramatic retreat after widespread anger over the bill sparked the biggest street protests in the city in three decades.
Earlier, British Prime Minister Theresa May had said extradition rules in Hong Kong had to respect the rights and freedoms set out in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“We are concerned about potential effects of these proposals particularly obviously given the large number of British citizens there are in Hong Kong,” May told parliament, as reported by Reuters.
“But it is vital that those extradition arrangements in Hong Kong are in line with the rights and freedoms that were set down in the Sino-British joint declaration,” she added.
(With inputs from BBC, Reuters)