As anger over the proposed extradition law grows, the head of Hong Kong’s legislature has announced the schedule for debate on contentious changes to the territory’s extradition laws, setting a vote by June 20, reported AP. If the territory’s government sends the legislature the widely opposed bill, it would potentially allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Andrew Leung, Legislature President, said Tuesday that he had accepted 153 out of 238 proposed amendments to the bills. He said there would be 66 hours for debate.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters descended on the streets in the largest demonstration in Hong Kong in more than a decade. The massive turnout reflected increasing apprehension about relations with the Communist Party-ruled mainland. As per local media, police are mobilising thousands of additional officers to keep a strict check on law and order amid calls for protesters to begin gathering Tuesday night.
Some businesses have also announced plans to close on Wednesday and scattered reports told of students planning to boycott classes.
Largest protest in more than a decade
Over the weekend, many took to the streets in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to protest the legislative proposal that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. The protest appeared to be Hong Kong’s largest in more than a decade.
The full Hong Kong legislature is expected to resume debate on the amendments on Wednesday, and a vote is expected this month.
The controversial legislation has become a flashpoint for growing concerns about Beijing’s heavy-handedness and tightening grip over the former British colony, which had been promised it would retain its own legal and social institutions for 50 years after its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
What does the extradition bill say?
The proposed law allows suspects accused of crimes such as rape and murder to be extradited to China for trial. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam is pushing for the amendments to be passed this month. She had become the CEO in 2017 as as the candidate favoured by Beijing.
Once the law is changed, Hong Kong will also hand over to China individuals accused of crimes in Taiwan and Macau. Taiwan has a tense relationship with China; Macau, like Hong Kong, is a Chinese special administrative region with significant autonomy.
The government has maintained that the proposed amendments would ‘plug loopholes’ that allow the city to be used by criminals. It has assured that courts in Hong Kong would make the final decision on extradition, that only certain categories of suspects would be liable, and that individuals accused of political and religious offences would not be extradited.
Critics say legislation would entrap HK residents in China’s judicial system
Critics believe the legislation would put Hong Kong residents at risk of being entrapped in China’s judicial system, and they wouldn’t be guaranteed free and fair trials. They say that the changes would heavily compromise Hong Kong’s legal independence. Hong Kong Bar Association Chair Philip Dykes told the Associated Press that said a lack of faith in Beijing remains a crucial issue.
“The government is asking these people with decades of mistrust suddenly to trust the system and to accept assurances that the (Chinese) mainland will offer that they be honoured. And that’s clearly not persuading the people,” Dykes was quoted as saying by the news agency.
Hong Kong CEO says changes are necessary to uphold justice
Carrie Lam has said the changes are necessary for Hong Kong to uphold justice and meet its international obligations. Without them, she said Hong Kong risks becoming a “fugitive offenders’ haven”. Lam said the government has considered concerns from the private sector and altered the bill to improve human rights safeguards, emphasising that extradition cases would be decided by Hong Kong courts.
“Even the chief executive could not overrule the court, to say that because (a country) wants this offender, I will surrender,” Lam was quoted as saying by AP.
Hong Kong voters cannot directly elect their chief executive. Lam was elected in 2017 by a committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites and is widely seen as the Communist Party’s favoured candidate.
Legislative Council has sizeable camp of pro-Beijing lawmakers
Over the years, Beijing has made significant efforts to integrate Hong Kong with the mainland.
Only last year October, Beijing opened the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge, connecting Hong Kong and Macau to the city of Zhuhai in southern Guangdong province. Besides this, there have been many instances where those who anger China’s central government in Hong Kong have come under greater pressure since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
In late 2015, several Hong Kong booksellers were detained that intensified worries about the erosion of Hong Kong’s rule of law. They had briefly vanished before resurfacing in police custody in mainland China. Among them, Swedish citizen Gui Minhai is currently being investigated on charges of leaking state secrets after he sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders.
In April, nine leaders of a 2014 pro-democracy protest movement known as the “Umbrella Revolution” were convicted on public nuisance and other charges.
China blames ‘foreign forces’ for massive Hong Kong protests
A day after Hong Kong witnessed a unified protest march with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to oppose the government’s extradition Bill, the Chinese government on Monday blamed “foreign forces” and said it “resolutely” opposed the “wrong words and deeds of any foreign forces” that interfere in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s (SAR) legislation. An editorial in the state-run China Daily also noted that “…foreign forces are seizing the opportunity to advance their own strategy to hurt China by trying to create havoc in Hong Kong.”