China extradition bill draws huge protest in Hong Kong, creates vote delay

China extradition bill draws huge protest in Hong Kong, creates vote delay

Agence France-Presse

Hong Kong witnessed its largest street protest in at least 15 years in early June 2019 as crowds massed against plans to allow extradition to China, a proposal that has sparked a major backlash against the city’s pro-Beijing leadership.

At least 150,000 people marched in blazing summer heat through the cramped streets of the financial hub’s main island in a noisy, colorful demonstration calling on the government to scrap its planned extradition law on June 9, 2019. Just three days later, on June 12, tens of thousands of demonstrators once again stormed key Hong Kong roads as police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as the bill was scheduled to receive a second reading. (Pictured: Protesters march during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019.)

The city’s pro-Beijing leaders are pushing a bill through the legislature that would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which it does not already have a treaty — including mainland China for the first time.

Police said at least 153,000 had started the march on June 9, but they had yet to calculate the crowd’s peak figure with new people still joining hours after it began. Authorities did not release an exact figure of demonstrators who blocked streets on June 12.

Historically,  police give much lower figures than organizers, but even the estimate of the June 9 demonstration would make it the largest street protest since 2003.

Dense crowds chanting “Scrap the evil law!” and “Oppose China extradition!” stretched for kilometers.

Coffee shop owner Marco Ng said he was closing his store to join the June 9 march.

“Our city matters more than our business,” the 26-year-old said. “If we don’t speak out, then there’s no way that the government will listen to our concerns.”

The last time the city saw protest crowds of similar size was in 2003 when a massive demonstration forced the government to shelve a deeply unpopular national security law.

The extradition plans have sparked an opposition that unites a similarly wide demographic.

In recent weeks, lawyers have held somber marches dressed in black, anonymous senior judges have given critical media interviews and the city’s two main legal groups — the Law Society and the Bar Association — have urged a rethink.

Business figures are also rattled with multiple chambers of commerce and commercial groups expressing alarm, adding to criticism from the United States, Canada, former colonial power Britain and many European governments.

Hong Kong’s leaders, who are not popularly elected, say the law is needed to plug loopholes and stop the city from being a hideaway for mainland fugitives.

They say dissidents and critics will not be extradited and have urged the bill’s quick passage to extradite a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for murdering his girlfriend.

Critics fear the law would entangle people in China’s opaque and politicized court system and say the government is using the Taiwan case as a Trojan Horse.

The proposed law has been fast-tracked through the city’s government-dominated legislature, with plans to have the law on the statute books by late July, despite debate over the bill being postponed due to demonstrations.