The streets of Hong Kong were filled with over one million people yesterday (9 June) as they gathered in a mass protest against the government’s controversial extradition bill, says the organiser.
Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported that Jimmy Sham, a spokesperson for organisers, noted that approximately 1.03 million people took part in the rally – a figure that was collected by volunteers along Hennessy Road. However, the police said that only around 270,000 people were part of the protest during its peak.
If the organiser’s figure is accurate, then it would be the largest demonstration in Hong Kong since the territory was given to China by the British in 1997.
The Sunday’s rally was organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of pro-democracy groups to stop the proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial.
The Hong Kong’s government first proposed amendments in the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO) and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance (MLAO) in February this year to enable the city to handle case-by-case extraction request from jurisdictions without any prior agreement.
This happened in response to the murder of Poon Hui-wing, a 20-year-old Hong Kong woman who died during a trip to Taiwan last February. Although Hong Kong authorities managed to arrest Poon’s boyfriend Chan Tong-kai, but were not able to charge him with murder in local courts. Taiwan authorities have requested that he be extradited, but the Hong Kong government told that they have no such arrangements with Taipei.
As such, the newly proposed amendments in the law would allow the chief executive (Carrie Lam) and local courts to manage extradition requests without legislative oversight and can reach a final decision before the end of the current legislative period in July.
During yesterday’s protest, people were heard chanting “Scrap the evil law”, “Oppose China extradition” and “Carrie Lam resign”.
HK Lau, who is a retired civil servant told HKFP that he thinks the extradition law would put a stop to the One Country Two Systems principle. “Communist China never changed. If anything has changed it is that they are richer and more powerful, and now it’s spreading,” he said.
In addition to that, Claudia Mo, the pro-democracy camp’s convenor also told the news site that Ms Lam was pushing for the bill following the instruction given from Beijing.
“The apparent grand plan, complete with the Greater Bay Area scheme, is to assimilate Hong Kong into the vast hinterland. The idea is to, ultimately, disappear Hong Kong, or at least to change it into one of the numerous Chinese cities…like a little boat, Hong Kong is sinking fast, but we’re not taking this lying down, we have to put up a fight.”
Despite a massive uproar from the people, the government insisted that the law will allow to close a legal “loophole” in the system. But, different parties like lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have highlighted their concerns over the risk of people being extradited to the mainland.
In response to the rally, the Government had released a statement noting that “it acknowledges and respects that people have different views on a wide range of issues” and noted that the march was overall “peaceful and orderly” apart from some traffic issues.
As for the tabling of FOO and MLAO, the Government defended its stand and said that it had explained its reasons on multiple occasions.
The Government reiterated that, firstly, the bill was prompted by the murder of a Hong Kong citizen in Taiwan which brought into sharper focus deficiencies of the existing regime dealing with mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and the surrender of fugitives.
If these deficiencies were not addressed as a matter of priority, Hong Kong would continue to be a bolt-hole for criminals, putting residents’ safety at risk and disregarding its international responsibilities in the fight against cross-border and transnational crimes.
Secondly, the bill covers only the most serious crimes punishable by imprisonment of seven years or more, that is, cases that would normally be tried in Hong Kong’s High Court, and the crimes must exist in the laws of both Hong Kong and the requesting jurisdiction before a surrender request will be processed.
Thirdly, none of these serious criminal offences relate to the freedom of assembly, of the press, of speech, of academic freedom or publication. And no surrender for a political offence or if the purported charges are in fact on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinions.
Fourthly, executive and judicial safeguards built into the system protect all the human rights enshrined in the Basic Law and Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and ensure that any requests for assistance or surrender are legal, and subject to challenge and review up to the Court of Final Appeal.
Furthermore, as guaranteed under the Basic Law, the courts of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference.
In addition, the chief executive would not be able to “bypass the Court to surrender a fugitive to any requesting party including the Mainland”. As such the Government noted that its proposals are “firmly grounded in the rule of law”.
“Noting that the Second Reading debate on the bill will resume on June 12, the Government urged the Legislative Council to scrutinise the bill in a calm, reasonable and respectful manner to help ensure Hong Kong remains a safe city for residents and business.”
Just two months ago, in April, thousands of Hongkongers marched in protest of the proposal as democrats tried to prevent the bill from passing at the legislature. The Government is trying its best to speed-up the bill’s movement through the legislature, demanding that it comes in play at the main chamber by Wednesday as it hopes that it will pass before the summer break next month.