Extradition Bill Protests Push Hong Kong into Political Turmoil
Opponents of legislation in Hong Kong that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China are planning more protests and labor strikes in an attempt to block the move, which they say endangers the territory’s judicial independence and Western-style freedoms.
The government plans to present the amendments to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on Wednesday, despite a weekend protest that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in the territory’s largest political demonstration in more than a decade.
The legislation has become a lightning rod for concerns about Beijing’s increasing control 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.
Jimmy Sham, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front that organized Sunday’s protest, said his group is prepared to keep fighting to defeat the legislation.
“We will use our people to surround the Legislative Council, starting from tomorrow,” Sham said Tuesday.
Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has consistently defended the legislation as necessary to close legal loopholes with other countries and territories. The legislature’s president, Andrew Leung, has scheduled a vote on June 20.
Police closed off streets surrounding the legislature and government headquarters amid online calls for protesters to gather and show their opposition. Local media reports said thousands of additional officers were being mobilized to keep order.
Some businesses announced plans to close Wednesday and there were scattered reports of students planning to boycott classes. Rain was forecast overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, possibly reducing the size of crowds.
Sunday’s protest was widely seen as reflecting growing apprehension about relations with the Communist Party-ruled mainland, whose leader, Xi Jinping, has said he has zero tolerance for those demanding greater self-rule for Hong Kong.
Critics believe the extradition legislation would put Hong Kong residents at risk of being entrapped in China’s judicial system, in which opponents of Communist Party rule have been charged with economic crimes or ill-defined national security offenses, and would not be guaranteed free trials.
Lam, who canceled her regular question and answer session on Wednesday, said the government has considered concerns from the private sector and altered the bill to improve human rights safeguards.
She emphasized 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 said.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a lawyer and member of Lam’s administration advisory committee, said Sunday’s protest showed a lack of trust in Hong Kong’s administration, partly because Lam was selected by a small number of electors rather than by popular vote. However, China’s patience with Hong Kong’s demands has its limits, Tong said.
“We need to gain the trust and confidence of Beijing so they can allow us the freedom of political reform,” Tong said. “They don’t want to see Hong Kong as a base of subversion. And I’m sorry, we’re doing exactly that.”
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