The protests against the proposed Extradition Bill in Hong Kong shows no signs of slowing down. While the government has postponed the bill for now, people are still demanding that it be permanently shelved and that Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign.
On 1 July, the anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong to China, a group of protesters stormed the parliament building and defaced the Hong Kong emblem, damaged portraits of political leaders and destroyed furniture. There were, however, other groups of protesters that remained peaceful.
Millions of protesters took to the streets almost a month ago on 9 June following rising tensions as the Hong Kong Legislative Council attempted to push through a new law that would allow residents to be extradited to mainland China.
The main concern that people in Hong Kong have is that the law poses a real threat to the cities judicial and legal independence from China which is enshrined in the “One Country, Two Systems” model which was put in place when the British relinquished control of Hong Kong to the Chinese government.
But despite a massive uproar from the people, the government has insisted that the law will allow to close a legal “loophole” in the system which, if left unaddressed, would allow Hong Kong to continue to be a ‘bolt-hole for criminals’.
However, people aren’t buying it. When asked why people are protesting, one Hong Konger told us, “It’s just because the reasons proposed by the Hong Kong Government are no ground and not logical. Taiwan Government already mentioned that will not recognise the extradition bill even if it passes the territory’s legislature.”
He is referring to the fact that one of the catalyst for government’s proposal of the Extradition Bill was the case of a 20-year old Hong Kong resident who admitted to killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. Authorities in the city have him in custody but he has not faced trial for the murder as Hong Kong doesn’t have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Taiwan. And as current laws stand, he cannot be extradited to Taiwan either.
Taiwan, on the other hand, has come out to say that they would not be seeking extradition of the Hong Kong resident even if the Extradition Bill was passed.
The 20-something political risk analyst added, “Many people included professional lawyers have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland. The government just doesn’t listen the voice of Hong Kong Citizens.”
Apart from closing ‘loopholes’, the government has tried to assure the Hong Kong people that the bill won’t affect their freedoms as it only covers the most serious crimes punishable by seven or more years and that the crimes but exist in laws of both Hong Kong and the requesting jurisdiction before a surrender request can be processed.
Of those crimes, none are related to the freedom of assembly, speech, academic freedom, or publication. The government also assured them that will be no surrender for political offences either.
Lawyers disagree. Hong Kong lawyers have highlighted that the proposed law lacks sufficient safe-guards to ensure that the law isn’t misused. One example given is that the onus is placed on the suspect to prove that the extradition is politically motivated, not the other way around.
There is clear concern that the Chinese government would be able to misuse this law to silence dissenters in Hong Kong considering the fact that the final decision on extradition would rest on the Chief Executive who is essentially appointed by the mainland. However, the people feel that their concerns are falling on deaf ears.
Another young Hong Konger in his 20s told us that the reason people resorted to protesting was precisely because the government wouldn’t listen to them.
“Carrie Lam asked us to discuss logically. However, she never ever came out and discussed with the public. Hong Kong Government is not voted by citizens. We have nothing to do to pull it down by election. Going out on street is the only way we can deal with a stubborn government,” said the young man.
As protests have continued in the past few weeks, response from the government has been rather hostile. The police have deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in what many are calling the use of excessive force. The Hong Kong Journalist Association has also lodged complaints against the police for use of force against media personnel who were covering the events on the ground.
Some people have also asserted that the protests are detrimental to the economics of the city, saying that it has severely affected businesses. However, as we’ve already reported, the stock prices in Hong Kong did not tumble after the record-breaking protests. Instead, the Hong Kong market rallied after a week of losses, thanks in part to the decision of the government to suspend their plans of pushing through the Extradition Bill which in turn was brought about by unyielding protesters.
A junior strategic analyst in his 20s told us that the protesters are actually fighting to preserve the economic success Hong Kong has enjoyed these past few decades.
He said, “The “firewall” between Hong Kong’s rule of law and the Chinese legal system, which lacks independent courts, is the reason of Hong Kong’s economic success. And many foreign politic parties and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland. If the bill passed, Hong Kong is just another China City.”
Protesters want to preserve this firewall.
When asked if there is a future for Hong Kong, a 30-year old Hong Konger said, “Yes, if we can all be united and fight again the evil government. We have improved a lot when compare to Umbrella Movement”.