Hong Kong fell into political crisis on Sunday when over a million people took to the streets to protest a proposed extradition law that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial. The demonstration increased pressure on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Hong Kong’s official representatives in Beijing. Hong Kong operates under the “one country, two systems” regime as an autonomous region with its legal system widely regarded as its strongest asset.
The proposed bill provides case-by-case extraditions to outside jurisdictions beyond the twenty states that Hong Kong already has treaties with, including mainland China. It gives the chief executive the power to approve extradition after its clearance by Hong Kong’s courts and appeal system. Many fear a pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong would approve the majority of the Chinese Communist Party’s political demands. US and European officials have already voiced their concern along with international business and human rights groups who fear the bill would impair Hong Kong’s rule of law. Opponents of the bill and several senior Hong Kong judges question the fairness and transparency of the mainland Chinese court system and worry about Chinese security forces fabricating charges.
Weeks of growing outrage in the business, diplomatic, and legal communities made Hong Kongers fear a loss of legal independence and basic judicial protections in mainland China. Opposition to the bill has united communities from business people and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures, and religious groups. Human rights groups have cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions as well as difficulty accessing lawyers in China.
The Chinese government has been accused of meddling in Hong Kong on a number of occasions, denying democratic reforms and restricting freedoms, interfering with local elections, as well as being involved with the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based authors whose works were critical of Chinese leaders. All of whom appeared to be detained in China, and some had their forced confessions broadcast in Hong Kong. The movement opposing the potential bill on Sunday came amidst a series of governmental reforms to expand links between mainland China and Hong Kong.
Hong Kong officials defended their plans, they raised the threshold of extraditable offenses to crimes that carry sentences of seven years or more. They say the laws carry sufficient safeguards, including protection of independent judges who will hear cases before approval by the Hong Kong chief executive. However, individuals won’t be extradited if they face political or religious persecution or the death penalty. Lam and her officials emphasize the need to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is suspected of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. However, Taiwanese officials claim they won’t agree to any transfer him if the bill goes into effect, citing human rights concerns.
On Sunday afternoon, protestors filled a two-mile stretch of major roads from Victoria Park in east Hong Kong to the legislative council complex. Thousands more struggled to get through packed public transport from outer Hong Kong and Kowloon in mainland China. The Hong Kong police closed metro stations, funneling people through narrow roads, prompting accusations that they deliberately tried to reduce the size of the protest.
The peaceful march descended into violence early Monday morning as hundreds of protesters clashed with police outside the city’s parliament building. Some demonstrators charged police lines trying to get to the Legislative Council building, but police pushed back with pepper spray after warning the protesters. Some police had tear gas ready to go but none was reportedly used.
Seeing the massive protests in Hong Kong, cities around the world organized their own protest against the extradition bill. Sandi Bachom and Tarik Johnson went on the ground in New York City for Subverse where hundreds of people marched from Times Square to the Chinese Consulate Building to show their support for the protest in Hong Kong and voice their concerns about the bill.
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