June 16, 2019

Hong Kong Protests: Council Delays Debate on Extradition Law

Hong Kong Protests: Council Delays Debate on Extradition Law


Thousands of young protesters demonstrating on a multilane road outside the Legislative Council erupted in chants of “Chit Wui!” The phrase means “retract it!” in Cantonese, the Chinese dialect spoken in Hong Kong, referring to their calls for the bill to be withdrawn.

As the crowds of protesters swelled, police tried to push them back with water cannons and pepper spray. Some in the crowd unfurled convenience-store umbrellas. Others seized traffic signs and hurled them to the ground with a clatter.

A debate on the bill was scheduled for 11 a.m., but was delayed. Local news media reported that the delay was the result of lawmakers being unable to enter the building as a result of the protests.

The government later said that all entrances to its central offices had been closed as a result of the road blocks and told employees not already in the buildings to stay away.

Some protesters in the crowd said in interviews that they had little hope of forcing the government to back down on the extradition bill. But others, like Grace Tsang, were more optimistic.

Ms. Tsang, 25, said she had come in hopes of a drawing international attention to the bill, and said that she hoped global condemnation could force the government to back down from presenting the bill for a second reading in the local legislature.

“Hong Kong is a civilized city but they don’t listen to the citizens,” Ms. Tsang, who had worn sunglasses and a surgical mask to guard against pepper spray, said of the authorities. “It’s quite ridiculous.”

“We need all people from the world to support us because sometimes we are quite hopeless,” she added.

The city’s police force said some protesters were surrounding police and private cars in a tunnel and “threatening the lives of those who have been surrounded.”

“This behavior has gone beyond the scope of a peaceful gathering,” the statement said. “We call on those who surround the vehicles to leave as soon as possible, otherwise we will use appropriate force.”

Dragging heavy metal barriers, thousands of protesters poured onto roads around Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday morning to block access to the building, in the latest demonstration against a contentious bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

The demonstrators, many of them young people in black T-shirts and wearing surgical masks, set up the barriers on a wide road outside the Legislative Council, as the sound of the metal scraping the asphalt ricocheted through a canyon of skyscrapers. Hundreds of riot police, wearing full face shields and carrying batons, looked on.

The protest recalled the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement five years ago, which shut down several districts in the city — including the very roads that protesters were blocking on Wednesday — but ultimately failed to win any concessions from the government.

One of the protesters, Daniel Yeung, 21, stood on a cement barrier in the center of the road in the shadow of the legislative building, wearing black clothing, a white surgical mask and gardening gloves. The road, normally a busy thoroughfare, was now a sea of black shirts. A city bus stood stalled at the edge of the crowds.

Mr. Yeung said he had come to protest the extradition bill and what he called the “arbitrary” policies of Carrie Lam, the Beijing-backed chief executive of Hong Kong, and President Xi Jinping of China. If the law passes, he said, he feared what the authorities might do. “They’ll think you’re a suspect and send you back to China.”

Many of the protesters had started gathering on Tuesday evening and stayed overnight.

Residents were planning protests, strikes and a transportation slowdown for Wednesday, as lawmakers were set to debate the contentious bill that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

The demonstrations were expected to be smaller than the march held on Sunday, in which up to a million people, or a seventh of the territory’s population, paraded through the city in an overwhelmingly peaceful protest.

By Tuesday afternoon, labor groups, businesses and student organizations across the city had announced plans to demonstrate their opposition to the extradition bill. Small businesses, including restaurants and bookstores, said they would close their doors; high school students and as many as 4,000 of their teachers planned a walkout; and a union for bus drivers urged members to drive well below the speed limit.

An online petition called for 50,000 people to protest outside the Legislative Council, the city’s legislature, as it prepared for its second debate on the proposed law. On Monday, the council said it would restrict access to a nearby area that is typically reserved for demonstrations.

Lawmakers are likely to vote on the bill by the end of next week, the head of Hong Kong’s legislature said, despite mass protests over the weekend.

The plan, announced on Tuesday by the chairman of the Legislative Council, Andrew Leung, further inflamed tensions in Hong Kong after Sunday saw one of the largest protests in the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s recent history.

The city’s police force said no violence would be tolerated at any public protests. The South China Morning Post reported that thousands of additional officers had been mobilized.

Mr. Leung said that the bill could go to a vote on June 20 after about 60 hours of debate, adding “the case is pressing and has to be handled as soon as possible.” The measure is likely to pass in the local legislature, where pro-Beijing lawmakers hold 43 of 70 seats.

Opposition lawmakers had expected the vote to take place around the end of the month, based on a regular schedule of meetings. The legislative chairman’s decision to add more meetings in the coming days in order to bring the date of the vote forward quickly drew criticism. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Monday that the bill would be pushed through “out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong.”

The bill would allow Hong Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements, including Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

Ms. Lam has said the new law is urgently needed to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for the murder of his girlfriend. But the authorities in Taiwan, a self-governed island claimed by Beijing, say they would not agree to the extradition arrangement because it would treat Taiwan as part of China.

Critics contend that the law would allow virtually anyone in the city to be picked up and detained in mainland China, where judges must follow the orders of the Communist Party. They fear the new law would not just target criminals but political activists as well.

The extradition plan applies to 37 crimes. That excludes political ones, but critics fear the legislation would essentially legalize the sort of abductions to the mainland that have taken place in Hong Kong in recent years. The mainland Chinese authorities are typically not permitted to operate in the semiautonomous territory.

Mike Ives, Tiffany May, Katherine Li and Daniel Victor contributed reporting.



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