Hong Kong's leader announced the government will suspend its unpopular extradition bill after unprecedented mass protests this week. City leader Carri
Hong Kong’s leader announced the government will suspend its unpopular extradition bill after unprecedented mass protests this week.
City leader Carrie Lam was previously urged to halt discussions on the unpopular legislation which saw more than a million demonstrators take to the streets of the island territory.
Ms Lam said in a press conference that she took the decision in response to widespread public unhappiness over the measure, which would enable authorities to send some suspects to stand trial in mainland China.
‘The government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise,’ chief executive Carrie Lam told reporters.
‘The council will halt its work in relation to the bill until our working communication explanation and listening to opinions is completed,’ she said. ‘We have no intention to set a deadline for this work.’
She said the extradition law was needed to plug loopholes and stop the international finance hub being a haven for criminals but admitted her administration had underestimated the public backlash.
‘I feel deep sorrow and regret that the deficiencies in our work and various other factors have stirred up substantial controversies and disputes in society following the relatively calm periods of the past two years,’ she said.
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Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced at a press conference on Saturday that the debate on the extradition bill would be halted amid protests
Lam told reporters she had taken the decision in response to widespread public unhappiness over the measure after this week’s protests
Violence erupted during clashes between police and protesters on Wednesday, with riot police firing rubber bullets and beanbag rounds at unarmed protesters in the worst unrest the city has witnessed in decades
Another mass protest over the issue had been planned for Sunday after earlier demonstrations this week which ground the city to a halt.
More than a million people marched through the streets of the territory to voice their objections to the proposed law.
The international finance hub was rocked by the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China on Wednesday as tens of thousands of unarmed protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds.
Many in the former British colony worried that the move would further erode cherished legal protections and freedoms promised by Beijing when it took control in 1997.
Lam, chosen by Beijing to be the highest-level local official, is caught between her Communist Party bosses and a public anxious to protect the liberties they enjoy as a former British colony.
She had previously refused to withdraw the bill, and many protesters are demanding she quit.
Protests died down late in the week, but around midnight Friday there were still dozens of youths singing and standing vigil near the city’s government headquarters, where demonstrators had tussled with police who deployed tear gas, pepper spray, hoses and steel batons as thousands pushed through barricades.
Police said 11 were arrested. Lam declared that Wednesday’s violence was ‘rioting,’ potentially raising severe legal penalties for those arrested for taking part.
Police use tear gas to block protesters from coming closer to the Legislative Council as the protests turned violent earlier in the week
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam faced calls from both outside and within her government today to delay extradition legislation that has spurred massive protests. Hundreds of mothers gathered in city centre to call for a retract of the bill
Police were accused of over-stepping lawful powers and launching an unprecedented operation against the much larger mass of peaceful protesters in the former British colony, which was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997, amid guarantees of autonomy and freedoms
A protester wearing a face mask and goggles tosses a police-issue tear gas grenade back towards riot cops during Wednesday’s protests
Residents in Hong Kong staged demonstrations six days in a row with an estimated one million people taking to the streets
Police stand guard as protesters display placards during a demonstration near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Saturday
Prior to Saturday’s announcement by Lam, some members of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s cabinet, said she should perhaps rethink plans to rush the bills’ passage. A group of former senior government officials issued a public letter urging her not to force a confrontation by pushing ahead with the unpopular bills.
Many in Hong Kong fear the measures would undermine the former British colony’s legal autonomy.
More than 1,000 people joined a peaceful ‘mother’s protest’ Friday evening in a downtown garden.
Adding to tensions, the extradition bill has drawn criticism from U.S. and British lawmakers and human rights groups, prompting Beijing to lash back with warnings against ‘interference’ in its internal affairs.
Anson Chan, a former chief secretary for Hong Kong, said Friday that Lam still could keep her post if she backs down.
‘What the people are attempting to tell is that we are very worried about the consequences of passing the extradition bill, because no one will feel safe, even in their own beds, after passage of this bill,’ Chan said in an interview.
‘It places everybody’s individual freedom and safety at risk,’ said Chan, who as chief secretary was the top local civil servant under former British Gov. Chris Patton.
Many in Hong Kong fear the measures would undermine the former British colony’s legal autonomy. As of Friday afternoon, more than 30,000 people had signed a petition protesting the use of force by police during violent clashes on Wednesday
More than 1,000 people joined a peaceful ‘mother’s protest’ Friday evening in a downtown garden. Speakers at the rally called for Lam to step down. One mother is seen holding a piece of paper telling the government that it was not ‘children’s fault’
The standoff between police and protesters is Hong Kong’s most severe political crisis since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts
Michael Tien, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature and a deputy to China’s national parliament, said a total withdrawal of the bill would not be possible.
‘The amendment is supported by the central government, so I think a withdrawal would send a political message that the central government is wrong. This would not happen under ‘one country, two systems’,’ he told Reuters, referring to the model under which Hong Kong enjoys semi-autonomy.
Organisers of last Sunday’s protest march are planning another march this Sunday.
In addition to calling for the bill to be completely dropped, they would also be pushing for accountability of the police for the way protests have been handled.
Critics, including leading lawyers and rights groups, note that China’s justice system is controlled by the Communist Party, and marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.
Why is Hong Kong’s extradition law fueling protests?
Hong Kong’s government has indefinitely delayed the second round of debate on an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial for the first time, after chaotic protests by tens of thousands of people.
Hong Kong residents, as well as foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the global financial hub, would all be at risk if they are wanted on the mainland.
Pro-establishment political forces are dominant in the Legislative Council and the bill is expected to be passed by the end of the month.
WHAT DOES THE EXTRADITION BILL INVOLVE?
Protesters march along a downtown street against the proposed amendments to an extradition law in Hong Kong on Sunday last week
The Hong Kong government first launched the proposals in February, putting forward sweeping changes that would simplify case-by-case extraditions of criminal suspects to countries beyond the 20 with which Hong Kong has existing extradition treaties.
It explicitly allows extraditions from Hong Kong to greater China – including the mainland, Taiwan and Macau – for the first time, closing what Hong Kong government officials have repeatedly described as a ‘loophole’ that they claim has allowed the city to become a haven for criminals from the mainland.
Hong Kong’s leader would start and finally approve an extradition following a request from a foreign jurisdiction but only after court hearings, including any possible appeals. However, the bill removes Legislative Council oversight of extradition arrangements.
WHY IS THE HONG KONG GOVERNMENT PUSHING IT NOW?
Officials initially seized on the murder last year of a young Hong Kong woman holidaying in Taiwan to justify swift changes. Police say her boyfriend confessed on his return to Hong Kong and he is now in jail on lesser money-laundering charges.
Taiwan authorities have strongly opposed the bill, which they say could leave Taiwanese citizens exposed in Hong Kong and have vowed to refuse taking back the murder suspect if the bill is passed.
A long-forgotten issue, the need for an eventual extradition deal with the mainland was acknowledged by government officials and experts ahead of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under the ‘one country, two systems’ model.
The city maintains a separate and independent legal system as part of the broader freedoms the formula guarantees. Little progress has been made in discreet talks since then with justice and security officials on the mainland, where the Communist Party still controls the courts.
HOW STRONG IS OPPOSITION TO THE BILL?
Protest placards and flowers are displayed during a demonstration in Hong Kong on June 11 to demand authorities scrap a proposed extradition bill with China
Concern about the amendments has spiraled in recent weeks, taking in pro-business and pro-Beijing elements usually loath to publicly contradict the Hong Kong or Chinese governments.
Senior Hong Kong judges have privately expressed alarm, and mainland commercial lawyers based in Hong Kong have echoed their fears, saying the mainland system cannot be trusted to meet even basic standards of judicial fairness. Hong Kong lawyers’ groups have issued detailed submissions to the government, hoping to force a postponement.
Authorities have repeatedly stressed that judges will serve as ‘gatekeepers’ or guardians for extradition requests. However, some judges say privately that China’s increasingly close relationship with Hong Kong and the limited scope of extradition hearings will leave them exposed to criticism and political pressure from Beijing.
Schools, lawyers and church groups have joined human rights groups to protest against the measures. Following a brawl in the legislature over the bill, the government moved to fast-track the bill by scrapping established legislative procedures that stoked outrage amongst critics.
Police officers stand guard outside the Legislative Council building as people protest the extradition bill with China in Hong Kong on the night of June 11
Foreign political and diplomatic pressure over human rights concerns is rising, too. As well as recent statements from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his British and German counterparts, some 11 European Union envoys met Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to protest formally.
‘It’s a proposal, or a set of proposals, which strike a terrible blow … against the rule of law, against Hong Kong’s stability and security, against Hong Kong’s position as a great international trading hub,’ Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, said on Thursday.
Some opposition politicians say the issue now represents a turning point for the city’s free status.