Demonstrations in Hong Kong against a bill allowing extradition to China

Hong Kong
File AFP

UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Thousands of people demonstrated on Hong Kong’s streets on Sunday as anger mounted over a bill that would allow extradition of wanted criminals to mainland China, sparking the biggest wave of popular anger in the city since anti-pro-Beijing protests a year ago.

At least 150,000 people marched freely through the crowded streets of the World Financial Center in a noisy demonstration, demanding the government repeal the deportation bill.

The city’s pro-Beijing leaders are seeking to pass a law in parliament that would allow people to be handed over to anyone with no pre-existing treaty in this regard. Among them is mainland China, in an unprecedented step.

Marco Ng, a cafe owner, said he would close his shop to join the rally.

“Our city is more important to us than our business,” Marco, 26, told AFP. “If we do not raise our voices, there is no other way for the government to listen to our concerns.”

“This law will not only affect Hong Kong’s reputation as an international financial center, but the reputation of its judicial system, and this has an impact on my future,” said Evan Wong, an 18-year-old student.

The bill was met with opposition that brought together large segments of society and sparked the biggest protests since the pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralyzed parts of the city for two months.

– Large opposition wave –

In recent weeks, some lawyers have marched in black, and senior judges have interviewed anonymously, while the Association of Jurists and the Hong Kong Bar Association have called for a review of the law.

The law has also shaken the world of business. Chambers of commerce and trade groups have expressed concern, while criticism has been voiced by the United States, Canada, Britain (the former colonial power of the region) and many European countries.

Online petitions brought together people from various walks of life, from housewives to students, nurses and horseback riding enthusiasts.

Hong Kong leaders, who are not popularly elected, say the law is necessary to fill gaps and put an end to the city’s use as a basic haven for mainland fugitives.

They stressed that dissidents and critics of the authority would not be deported and urged a speedy passage of the law to deport a man from Hong Kong wanted in Taiwan to kill his lover.

But critics fear the law will throw people into China’s mysterious and politicized judicial system and see the government’s use of the case of the man who killed his lover as a Trojan horse.

The city’s parliament and the majority of its pro-Beijing members were quick to discuss the bill, which will be re-read Wednesday.

The government says it plans to make the law effective in late July.

Previous sessions of the House of Representatives on the issue have been chaotic because of feuding MPs.

Organizers considered that the demonstration on Sunday an attempt to show the extent of opposition to the law before the second reading.

– Concessions –

The strong reaction to the law creates a problem for Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, whose political reputation has been put to the test.

His endorsement may already lead to further protests and possibly a return to tension in 2014, but backing back could strengthen opponents’ position and anger Beijing.

Several key CPC officials expressed their support for the law.

In recent weeks, Lam’s government has made some basic compromises.

And abolished nine economic crimes from the list of violations leading to extradition to China. She said that only seven years or more in prison were punishable by the law, while three years were in the basic text. She confirmed that the only extradition requests to be heard are those brought by the highest judicial authorities in China.

The business community cautiously welcomed those steps, but others considered the concessions to be an implicit admission that China’s judiciary was unfair.

Many protesters said on Sunday they no longer trust the Hong Kong government’s promise that opponents will not go to the mainland.

“This government is not elected,” said Johnnie Wynne, a 57-year-old construction worker. “They work for those who gave them power,” he said. “We have to fight for dignity.”

Doubts have been raised in China after a series of disappearances of prominent people who later appeared in mainland prisons, such as a group of opposition publishers and a billionaire who disappeared from a well-known hotel.

Demonstrator Liu Wen, who said he works in art, described the disappearances as “terrifying.” “We can see how this will happen again and easily if the law is passed,” he told AFP.

More confidence in the city’s leadership was lost after the 2014 protests failed to win any concessions, imprisoning protest leaders, and preventing some opposition MPs from holding office or running for office.

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