Hongkongers vehemently protesting proposed extradition law on the streets, explained
They're afraid the law would be the final nail in Hong Kong's coffin.
Possibly more than 1 million people gathered in Hong Kong on Sunday, June 9, to protest a proposed extradition law.
How many took to the streets?
While organisers with the Civil Human Rights Front cited this more than 1 million people figure, police placed the turnout at just 240,000, according to South China Morning Post.
If the figure was 1 million, it would mean one in seven Hongkongers joined the protest, making it the largest demonstration to have taken place since the 1997 handover.
Two and a half hours later – Hong Kong’s rally against extradition is going strong. Feels like a historic moment. Many people who don’t protest normally are here. pic.twitter.com/gKsLPFDN6v
— Erin Hale (@erinhale) June 9, 2019
The protestors started their march from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, all the way to the government’s headquarters in Admiralty.
The protest lasted for seven hours.
At its peak, the streets became so packed commuters could not exit from some MTR exits, causing them to be stranded inside the stations.
Protesters are filling up streets. Multiple subway exits closed down. Queue for ferry accumulates
The scale of this #NoExtraditionToChina protest is comparable to the Umbrella Revolution or the July 1 protest back in 2003 (500k protesters)
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) June 9, 2019
The protest was largely peaceful, although skirmishes took place between the protestors and police towards the end at night.
Police were seen resorting to using pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
— Stella Lee (@StellaLeeHKnews) June 9, 2019
— Damon Pang (@damon_pang) June 9, 2019
A second hearing for the law is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12, despite the scale of the protests.
The law could be passed as quickly as the end of June.
Why is this the largest protest since the 1997 handover?
Although there were more Hongkongers who took to the streets in 1989 in protest against the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown — numbering about a million — as compared to the annual July 1 protest in 1997, the demonstrations were of a different nature.
This is because the July 1 protest was politically driven, while the protest in 1989 was carried out in solidarity with the participants of the Tiananmen protests.
Why are Hongkongers so concerned about the new bill?
The law would effectively allow for the transfer of alleged criminals, both Hong Kong citizens and foreigners, to mainland China.
Protestors worry that the law will “legitimise Chinese abduction” from the city by allowing Beijing to freely target political dissidents, according to The Guardian.
A series of disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015, who later turned up in the mainland under the control of Chinese authorities, have intensified these fears.
The law has even been called “the nail in Hong Kong’s coffin”.
Chris Patten, the former British governor of Hong Kong, said the law would “remove the firewall between Hong Kong’s rule of law and the idea of law which prevails in communist China”.
What is the Hong Kong government saying about the law?
Lam said the law is necessary to bring fugitives to justice.
She cited the case of a Hong Kong man who could not be extradited to Taiwan for murdering his 19-year-old girlfriend.
Although Hong Kong has extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the U.S. and U.K., it has not reached such an agreement with mainland China, even though negotiations have been ongoing for the past two decades, reported the BBC.
Critics say this is because under Chinese law, there is poor legal protection for defendants.
However, the Hong Kong government maintained that under the new legislation, suspects would receive a fair trial in court and and could not be extradited for political offences, Bloomberg reported.
The government also attempted to allay the fears of the protestors, saying “face-to-face explanations by relevant officials” in recent weeks have helped to “dispel misunderstanding”.
“The government will continue to engage, listen and allay concerns through calm and rational discussion,” it added.
Lam says the bill has nothing got to do with Beijing
In a press conference broadcast live on Monday, June 10, Lam stuck to her government’s stance, and said the bill is “not about mainland China alone, and is not initiated by the mainland”.
Her administration has been accused of being Beijing’s puppet.
“I did not receive instructions from Beijing,” she insisted.
“We are duty bound to address the deficiencies pointed out by Western democracies like the G7,” Lam added.
Lam was referring to the longstanding legal loophole in Hong Kong, which does not give the government sufficient authority to combat transnational crimes such as money laundering.
Critics say it then leads to the city becoming a safe haven for criminals.
But Hongkongers are not buying it
But protestors do not buy the government’s justification.
They say the Hong Kong government is just using the case as an excuse, and that even Taiwan itself does not support the extradition law, AFP reported.
Support for the movement elsewhere
— Laurel Chor (@laurelchor) June 10, 2019
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, known for her pro-democracy stance, took to Facebook to show her support too.
She said that over the last 22 years since the handover, the “one country, two systems” model has reduced Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law, despite the city being proudly democratic in the past.
What was mainland China’s response?
English-language Chinese state media, China Daily, published a commentary on Sunday, June 9, that claimed the protest was undermining the city’s rule of law, and that the protestors were unreasonable for opposing such a sensible law.
The commentary also blamed “foreign forces” for influencing the situation in Hong Kong.
Similarly, in a commentary published in Chinese on Monday, June 10, Chinese belligerent tabloid Global Times also claimed the protests were instigated by “foreign forces”, and were carried out in collusion with Hong Kong extremists.
Are the protests going to work?
Although the 2003 protests against the passing of an anti-sedition law proved to be successful, with the law ended up getting dropped, the political situation in Hong Kong has arguably changed since then.
While as many as 510,000 people — according to the organisers — took to the streets in 2014 to call for “genuine” universal suffrage in the Occupy Central protests, which was also known as the Umbrella Movement, their effort ultimately failed.
The movement was forcibly dismantled by the police with no concessions granted by the Hong Kong or Chinese authorities.
There are no signs thus far that things are going to be any different this time round.
Despite the overwhelming turnout for Sunday’s protest, Monday’s press conference by the Hong Kong government saw them standing firmly by their decision to see the passing of the law through.
Hongkongers are still willing to fight for their rights
The latest demonstration saw Hongkongers from diverse parts of society joining in, including first-time protestors and businesspeople.
In contrast, the 2014 Occupy Central protests were mainly led by student activists.
The movement was not popular across different segments of society, and was deemed disruptive to businesses.
However, Sunday’s events say otherwise.
It showed that the Hong Kong people are still willing to fight to protect their existing rights, despite the fizzling out of the 2014 pro-democracy movement in the face of unyielding pressure from Beijing.
This latest protest can also be seen as part of the wider pushback from Hongkongers against the perceived tightening grip the central government in Beijing has on the Special Administrative Region (SAR), especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office in 2012.
The “one country, two systems” model that Hong Kong is under is set to end in 2047.
Top image adapted via Erin Hale/Twitter