Photo: SCMP

Hong Kong’s extradition Bill opponents storm into suburban Sha Tin district, Carrie Lam stays mum on total withdrawal

Protests against the Hong Kong government’s extradition Bill show no signs of quelling as tens of thousands stormed into New Town Plaza Mall in the suburban Sha Tin district on Sun (14 Jul).

Reuters reported that clashes between the protestors and the police officers were particularly violent, as umbrellas and plastic bottles were thrown against the police officers, leaving 10 officers injured and taken to hospital for treatment, according to Hong Kong police chief Stephen Lo.

The police, in turn, had used pepper spray and batons against the protestors.

Over 40 people were arrested for assaulting police officers and carrying out illegal assembly in the aftermath of the protest on Sun, Lo added.

73-year-old Jennie Kwan told Reuters that the protests arose out of a lack of trust in the mainland Chinese government under Xi Jinping, and a fear of having the Special Administrative Region’s autonomy increasingly encroached upon by Beijing in recent times.

“Didn’t they promise 50 years, no change? And yet we’ve all seen the changes. I myself am already 70-something years old. What do I know about politics? But politics comes to you,” she said.

Several protestors also held up banners calling upon U.S. President Donald Trump to Please liberate Hong Kong” and “Defend our Constitution”, which Reuters observed will serve to anger Beijing as Washington had previously criticised Hong Kong’s extradition Bill, stating that it will affect the U.S.’ economic and business interests in the city.

The Union Jack was waved by several protestors as a reminder of Hong Kong’s time as a former British colony prior to its handover to China in 1997, while some other protestors hoisted American flags and banners calling for an independent Hong Kong.

69-year-old Chen told Reuters that he has “never missed a march so far since June”, as he wanted to show “appreciation and support” for “the youngsters”, who he said “have done something we haven’t done”.

Catherine, a woman in her mid-50s, however told Reuters that the “verbal violence” inflicted against her when the protestors learnt she was defending the police “makes me feel I am living in fear”, adding that activists branded the police officers as “dogs”.

Journalists staged silent march against police on Sun, urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam to uphold press freedom as promised 

Journalists, who were not spared from violence that took place during the protests, had staged a silent march against the police on Sun.

SCMP reported that around over 1,500 Hong Kong journalists had attended the rally according to the organisers, while police gave an estimation of 1,100.

The journalists, who had marched from Admiralty near the administrative centre of Hong Kong to Wan Chai where the police headquarters is situated, carried a banners calling upon officers to “stop police violence” and “defend press freedom”.

The attendees of the silent rally had then made their move to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s office, urging her to defend press freedom as she had promised in her election manifesto previously.

Chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and rally co-organiser Chris Yeung Kin-hing told SCMP: “Time and again, journalists have been struggling to keep themselves safe.”

“The irony is the major source of threats came from law enforcing police officers on the spot … How can the media serve the role of the fourth estate, especially in monitoring the public powers?” He questioned.

Yeung also criticised Lam’s decision to attend functions without giving media outlets prior notice of late, as it has “caused concerns that the government was trying to avoid journalists by resorting to one way dissemination of information,” which may produce the effect of “seeking to turn reporters into mouthpieces”.

He also argued that the issuance of press releases and videos of the protests by the police instead of holding press conferences or other avenues of communicating in real-time with the media is “an attempt to control the narrative”.

Chris Leung Chi-hong told SCMP that the journalists’ demands are “really simple,” which is to have the police to “exercise control when they meet with reporters during the protest” instead of using pepper spray and physical violence against them, having witnessed firsthand his colleagues’ experiences.

23-year-old online news portal HK01 reporter Nigel Lee Ka-Wai recalled his coverage of the Sheung Shui protest on Sat, as he told SCMP that reporters were “threatened” with police batons by some of the police officers, “who are usually communications officers”.

Separately, the Hong Kong Police Inspectors’ Association issued a letter to its members on Sun, stating that the Sheng Shui protest was a “100 per cent premeditated riot”, given the presence of hazardous materials such as corrosive fluid and an unknown powder, which had damaged the shops in the area in New Territories.

The Association alleged that the protestors had also acted violently against the public, and that the media and pro-democracy lawmakers were also responsible for fuelling the protests with their bias.

Carrie Lam intends to finish her five-year term, stays silent on withdrawing extradition Bill

Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald‘s China Correspondent reported that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has expressed her intention to complete her five-year term and to subsequently leave the post, in addition to making efforts to bridge the gap between her administration and the youth of Hong Kong as a result of the anti-extradition Bill protests.

After seismic clashes between protestors and the police that rocked Hong Kong for weeks, Lam announced that the controversial extradition Bill that sparked the protests is now “dead”.

Chairing the Executive Council meeting on 9 Jul, she said: “I have almost immediately put a stop to the (bill) amendment exercise, but there are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity, or worries whether the government will restart the process in the legislative council, so I reiterate here: There is no such plan, the bill is dead.”

“Our work on the extradition bill amendment is a complete failure,” she told reporters during a news conference.

Lam also urged “all the people who were involved in the activities over the past month — whether police officers or protestors — to “submit materials to this independent investigation committee,” and gave the assurance that all such information will be treated as confidential.

“I understand that the responses I’ve made so far may not meet all of the requests and requirements made by the protestors. This is not about me or myself or my dignity. This is to strike balance between the Hong Kong government [and the protestors], and I believe what I’ve suggested is feasible and practical,” she said.

“So I hope that everybody will give a chance to the Hong Kong SAR government, to remain calm and let us walk out of this troublesome situation, and let us learn our lesson in the face of large-scale public events.”

“Personally, I take full responsibility of what happened,” said Beijing-backed Lam.

Lam, however, remains mum about any prospects of withdrawing the Bill completely.

An unnamed source reportedly told Financial Times that Beijing refuses to allow Lam’s resignation, as “No one else can clean up the mess and no one else wants the job.”

The protests that swept across Hong Kong in recent weeks arose out of concerns over the scope of powers that will be granted upon certain jurisdictions Hong Kong decides to extradite crime suspects to – particularly mainland China – should the extradition Bill be passed, as certain factions remain sceptical of Beijing’s capacity to refrain from abusing the extradition arrangements.