Hong Kong extradition bill: Protesters return to streets despite suspension
BBC.com, June 16, 2019
Hundreds of thousands of people are protesting in Hong Kong against a controversial extradition bill, despite the bill having been suspended.
The densely-packed crowds are demanding that the bill – which would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China – be completely scrapped.
The region’s leader, Carrie Lam, on Sunday apologised for causing “disputes in society” over the bill.
A day earlier she delayed the bill plans after mass protests this week.
Many protesters, who fear increased Chinese influence over Hong Kong, are calling on Ms Lam to resign over the unrest.
What’s the latest?
The protests have so far remained peaceful, in contrast to the previous major demonstration on Wednesday which saw clashes between protesters and police that injured dozens.
By early Sunday afternoon, large crowds had gathered in the city’s Victoria Square, many wearing black or carrying white flowers. Organisers said they hoped more than a million people would attend, though no formal estimates of the crowd have yet been made.
The progress of the march was slow, as the large numbers of people blocked many streets and crowded train stations.
Many held white flowers to mourn a protester who fell to his death on Saturday from a ledge, where hours earlier he had unfurled an anti-extradition banner.
As darkness fell, protesters started to take over major roads and crossings and surrounded the legislative council building.
They carried placards that read “the students did not riot”, in response to police labelling Wednesday’s student protests a riot – an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
There was scepticism among some protesters about Ms Lam’s decision to suspend the bill.
“Carrie Lam has ignored the feelings of Hong Kongers,” Mr Ma, a 67-year-old protester, told the BBC. He said Ms Lam had “acted like it was no big deal” after a reported million people marched last week.
“Secondly, we are marching for the students who were brutally treated by the police. We need to get justice for them.”
Chloe Yim, 20, who had joined the protests for the first time, said: “If Carrie sees so many people come out, and still doesn’t listen – she’s being an autocrat who doesn’t listen to people. Hong Kong people can’t accept that.”
What is the controversy about?
Hong Kong is a former British colony, but was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it a level of autonomy.
The government had argued the proposed extradition bill would “plug the loopholes” so that the city would not be a safe haven for criminals, following a murder case in Taiwan.
The BBC’s Helier Cheung on why people are taking to the streets in Hong Kong
Critics have said the legislation would expose people in Hong Kong to China’s deeply flawed justice system and lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.
Many fear the law could be used to target political opponents of the Chinese state. A large-scale march, which organisers said drew more than one million people, was held last Sunday.
On Wednesday tens of thousands gathered to blockade streets around government headquarters to try to stop the second reading, or debate, of the extradition bill.
There were clashes and 22 police and 60 protesters were injured. Authorities say 11 people were arrested. The police have been accused by some rights groups of excessive force.
Why the anger at Carrie Lam?
Much of the public anger has been directed at Ms Lam, the region’s elected chief executive – who is firmly supported by Beijing.
Part of that anger comes from a tearful address after Wednesday’s violence in which she labelled the protests “organised riots” – a label rejected by the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters.
Ms Lam remained hidden from public view for days, until her announcement on Saturday there she had heard the calls for her government to “pause and think”. But she stopped short of saying the bill would be permanently shelved.
On Sunday, she followed this up with a statement apologising for “her government’s work that has led to substantial controversies and disputes in society, causing disappointment and grief among the people”.
There has been speculation among analysts about Ms Lam’s future amid the continued protests, but China’s foreign ministry publicly backed her on Saturday.
Emily Lau, a pro-democracy campaigner and former leader of the Democratic Party, told the BBC that activists were “just livid” about the actions of the government and police.
“They think she is really disgraceful and despicable and she would not apologise for the police atrocity and she insists on prosecuting the people arrested for rioting, which could attract a 10-year prison sentence. This is ridiculous,” she said.
“Beijing is very upset with Carrie Lam saying she has no ability,” she said. “So, I think she is really in grave danger”.
For her part, Ms Lam has insisted the extradition bill – and its subsequent suspension – came entirely from her own initiative and was not suggested or pushed by Beijing authorities.
Is Hong Kong part of China?
Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841, when China ceded the island to the British after the First Opium War – which had erupted over British traders smuggling opium into China. It remained a colony until sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.
It is now part of China under a “one country, two systems” principle, which ensures that it keeps its own judicial independence, its own legislature and economic system.
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It is what China calls a special administrative region – enjoying a great deal of autonomy that has made it a key business and media hub in the region.
But it remains subject to pressure from mainland China, and Beijing remains responsible for defence and foreign affairs.