Hong Kong suspends extradition Bill after mass protests
Published : Saturday, 15 June, 2019 at 2:00 PM Count : 475
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam announced on Saturday (June 15) the government will suspend the highly divisive extradition law, and try to have better communication with the people, following massive protests this week that ended in violence and injuries.
"I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society to more explanation work, and listen to different views of society," Mrs Lam told reporters at a 3pm press conference, The Straits Times reports.
" The Secretary for Security will send a letter to the Legislative Council President to withdraw the notice of resumption of a second reading debate on the Bill," she said, noting that her government came to the decision after studying the matter in the last two days.
"As a responsible government, we should defend law and order. But we also have to make a judgment call, and to protect Hong Kong’s best interest," she said.
"The government will listen, with an open attitude, to opinions about the Bill," she added.
The extradition Bill was initially scheduled to be debated in the Legislative Council (LegCo) on Wednesday but was postponed twice after thousands of protesters heeded calls to surround the government headquarters in Admiralty.
They streamed in on Tuesday night for a sit-in protest and more people turned up on Wednesday morning for what began as a largely peaceful rally.
But this soon turned chaotic in the afternoon as some protesters charged at the police using the advance and retreat strategy reminiscent of the 2014 “Occupy” movement. The violent clashes resulted in 81 injured and 22 arrests.
A mass protest is expected to be held on Sunday.
During a press conference on Saturday morning, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front Jimmy Sham said that Hong Kong people will fight on until the government withdraws the Bill, and also retracted the labelling of the protest as a “riot”.
The unrest has sparked domestic and international criticisms, adding to the mounting pressure on Mrs Lam to back down.
The changes to the law, mooted in February, would allow Hong Kong to send fugitives to other jurisdictions such as Taiwan and, more importantly, mainland China.
Hong Kong currently has 20 extradition agreements.
Opposition to handing people over to the mainland authorities stems from deep distrust in the Chinese judiciary’s independence.
Pro-democracy lawmakers, lawyers and activists argued that the Bill is an erosion of the “one country, two systems” principle and said it creates doubts in Hong Kong’s rule of law.
Under the “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and freedoms for 50 years from 1997, when Britain handed the territory back to the Chinese.
Critics also argued that people would not receive fair trials and that human rights protection was inadequate.
After lobbying by heavyweights in business and political sectors, the original proposed changes were watered down twice. For example, the original 46 offences to be included in the extradition Bill were cut to 37.
In late March, the government pulled back on proposed amendments by dropping nine white-collar offences, such as those related to stock trading, intellectual property rights, bankruptcy, access to a computer with dishonest intent and tax evasion. But the government was firm on the inclusion of corruption and bribery.
It also raised the threshold for offences to be covered by the law, from the initial one-year jail term, to three years and later, to the current seven years. This means the law will cover offences that warrant penalties of more than seven years.
Secretary for Security John Lee had stated in a June 10 policy statement on the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that the government had, over the past four months, met numerous bodies and individuals to collect opinions. Following this, the government narrowed the list of offences to those that are “most serious” and added more restrictions to safeguard the rights of the fugitive.
“The Hong Kong government will only process special surrender requests made by central authorities or their equivalent. Take the Mainland as an example, the Hong Kong government will not process any special surrender requests other than those made by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate,” said Mr Lee.
But opposition to the government’s plan grew as more people feared that the amended Bill could be used for political persecution, which Mrs Lam’s administration has dismissed.
When asked about the expected delay, Associate Professor Sing Ming of the University of Science and Technology said the crux lies in how long it will be.
“If it’s just a delay for one or two weeks, I don’t think the widespread political discontent against the government’s handling of the whole event will dissipate in the next few weeks," he said.
“So if she just postpones... the explosive (Bill), the delay will be for a few months, that is, it will only be discussed again in the new legislative session which opens in early October, and with a new round of consultations, then the 'bomb' will be defused for the next few months."
But Prof Sing noted that there is “widespread and obvious demand” from many in Hong Kong’s civic society for accountability for police brutality during the protests and for Mrs Lam to be held accountable for her mishandling of the entire saga.
The political pressure will build up and make it difficult for Mrs Lam and her senior government officials to carry out their duties in future, he said.