Wednesday 16 October 2019

Protests flood Hong Kong's streets over extradition law

Dragged away: Hong Kong police officers grab a protester during the rally. Photo: AP
Dragged away: Hong Kong police officers grab a protester during the rally. Photo: AP

Elizabeth Beattie

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong yesterday to demonstrate against a controversial extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China.

Protesters with banners denouncing the law and demanding the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam marched 3km in 30C heat to the city's legislative council.

A sea of protesters marches through the centre of the city. Photo: AP
A sea of protesters marches through the centre of the city. Photo: AP

Organisers claimed more than a million people attended the march, which flooded the city's public transport network and led to widespread congestion.

Police said the crowd reached 240,000 at its peak.

The proposed law would enable the Beijing government to extradite fugitives in Hong Kong to mainland China.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing extradition agreements or to others on an individual basis.

China was excluded because of concerns over its record on legal independence and human rights.

Ms Lam is billing the law as closing legal "loopholes", visible in a recent murder case when a Hong Kong man murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan before fleeing back to his home country.

Her government plans to bring the bill to the full legislature this week, bypassing the committee process, in a bid for approval by the end of the month.

But many are concerned the law could be used to silence the Beijing government's critics.

Lawyers in Hong Kong have said it would remove human rights protections enshrined in the common law legal system the city inherited from British rule.

The protest appeared to be even bigger than a massive pro-democracy demonstration in 2003 against a proposed national security law, according to journalists who covered both events.

Marchers of all ages took part, some pushing strollers and others carrying canes, chanting slogans in the native Cantonese dialect in favour of greater transparency in government.

Kiwi Wong (27) was among the throng, a member of the younger generation who have grown up enjoying relative prosperity but also growing insecurity about what many see as an erosion of the rights Hong Kong residents have enjoyed.

"If I didn't come out now, I don't know when I would have the chance to express my opinion again," Ms Wong said. "Because now we've got to this stage, if you don't come out to try to do what you can, then it will end up too late, you won't be able to say or do anything about it.

"The go"vernment didn't explain why they tried to delete that type of protection, so this gave rise to my concerns," said a lawyer in his 30s on the march who asked to remain anonymous. "This proposed legislation really bothers a lot of people."

The last big anti-government march was 2014's Umbrella Movement protests against interference in Hong Kong elections. Yesterday, yellow umbrellas were evident across the city as demonstrators paid tribute to that movement.

Despite the heat, there was no lack of enthusiasm. Hours after protesters had arrived at the legislative council complex, thousands still waited at the starting point, and organisers set up water stations for marchers.

A number of businesses had closed up shop in solidarity with marchers.

"This law has not been consulted on by the public. Twenty days is nothing for such an important bill to pass," said a protester in her 20s.

"A lot of people are here because this law hits close to home."

Zoey, a protester who declined to give her surname, said she did not usually engaged in political activity but "had to come out" yesterday because of the gravity of the extradition bill.

She said many people she knew were considering leaving because of it.

"I have a choice because I studied in New Zealand and have permanent residency, but I don't want to leave my family," she added.

The controversy over the bill comes amid mounting concern about erosion of the island city's traditional liberties.

Last month, two activists became the first people from Hong Kong to be granted political asylum abroad.

Ray Wong (25) and Alan Li (27), who are wanted on rioting charges following clashes between protesters and police in 2016, were granted refugee status in Germany.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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