Helen Davidson wrote:Vast protest in Hong Kong against extradition law
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in a vast protest against a proposed extradition law that critics say will allow mainland China to pursue its political opponents in the city, which has traditionally been a safe haven from the Communist party.
A sea of people, many wearing white, filled main roads stretching for almost two miles from Victoria Park in the east of Hong Kong island to the legislative council complex. Thousands more struggled to get onto packed public transport from outer Hong Kong and Kowloon on the mainland.
Police closed metro stations and funnelled people through narrow thoroughfares, prompting accusations that they were deliberately attempting to reduce the scale of the protest.
Anger grew and the crowd shouted for them to free up more space, as the march came to a dead stop for large sections, in stifling heat. Further down the road crowds jeered at a pro-China broadcast on a large outdoor screen.
The bill creates a system for case-by-case fugitive transfers between semi-autonomous Hong Kong and regions with which it does not already have agreements, including mainland China.
Critics say the proposed law would legitimise abduction in the city, and subject political opponents and activists to China’s widely criticised judicial system. They fear a pro-Beijing Hong Kong government would not resist requests of a political nature.
Other rallies held around the world drew thousands of protesters, including in Australia’s major cities.
Chants and placards targeted Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who has pushed for the amendments to be passed before July.
“This is the end game for Hong Kong, it is a matter of life or death. That’s why I come,” Rocky Chang, a 59-year-old professor, told Reuters. “This is an evil law.”
Three 19-year-old students, who did not want their last names or photographs published, said they were worried about the impact on freedom of speech. “Maybe we wouldn’t be able to post something about the Chinese government on social networking websites,” said Ruby. Her friend Yoyo said: “This is about our freedom of speech and basic human rights.”
Anthony, a retired lawyer, said the government had “tried to hoodwink us into agreeing much too quickly with something that has tremendous significance to Hong Kong.”
The bill poses a huge risk to the rule of law would not provide Hong Kong’s courts with the ability to provide proper oversight, he added. “And yet our chief executive tries to tell us there is no need to worry, the court is going to protect you,” he said. “What bullshit.”
Organisers raised predictions for the turnout after a crowd of about 180,000 gathered in Victoria Park on Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of China’s deadly crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square. The vigil, held every year since 1989, also served as a protest against the extradition bill.
On Thursday, hundreds of lawyers and judges marched silently through the city in a protest against the extradition bill. The march was led by Martin Lee, QC, an internationally recognised pro-democracy figure and former legislator, who has said opposition to the bill was “the last fight for Hong Kong”.
Anti-Beijing anger has been fuelled by the jailing in April of organisers of 2014 pro-democracy protests and the reduced presence of pro-democracy legislators, after six were removed from parliament in 2016 and 2017 for protesting against Beijing during their oath-taking.
Since the end of British rule in 1997, Hong Kong has operated under the “one country, two systems” regime, with a strong legal system seen internationally as its strongest asset. However, many feel the city’s autonomy has been eroded by a growing Beijing influence.
“If we lose this one, Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore, it’s just another Chinese city,” Lee told the Guardian.
Lee has been branded a counter-revolutionary by the Chinese government and believes he is among those it could target under the new law. “I haven’t committed any offence in China, but they don’t like me for what I do,” he said. “I’m prepared. I’m already 80, close to 81, so I won’t leave Hong Kong, I’ll continue to fight here. If they bring me there, OK. If they kill me in prison and say it’s suicide, OK. I hope I go to heaven.”
The Hong Kong government says the bill is needed to fight crime and that China is an important strategic partner in that regard. However, suspicions it was sought by Beijing were bolstered last month when Politburo member Han Zheng voiced his support and revealed targets included foreigners who committed crimes against Chinese national security outside China, and who came through Hong Kong.
Corrupt Chinese officials and tycoons who have fled to Hong Kong are also a key concern for the mainland government, which has never had a fugitive transfer request to Hong Kong granted in the 22 years since the end of British rule.
Human rights groups, legal alliances, and numerous governments have expressed their concern about the bill.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, warned that it could damage the rule of law in Hong Kong, and a bipartisan congressional committee urged Lam’s administration to listen to the widespread concerns, saying local and foreign residents in Hong Kong had to be protected “from a criminal justice system in mainland China that is regularly employed as a tool of repression”.
The organizer claimed to have 1.03 million participants, double of the 2003 one which eventually had Tung Chee-Hwa ousted. However, I think that's a little bit of stretch. From my observation 600k ~ 700k might be more accurate.
There is one very concrete evidence that the number of participants exceeded the 500k number in 2003:
When I followed my parents to the protest, we tried to take the Metro from Mong Kok, a station on the Kowloon side. However, we were only able to take the 5th train or so, and we had to join the protest mid-way, because my father is too fragile to make the whole journey. While we were in the group, we heard that Mong Kok station had been closed because of mass influx of people. Even in 2003, only those metro station on the HK Island side had to close.
There are also reports that the cross harbour buses and ferries were packed with protesters.
While I expressed some kind of support of the bill, it seems the Government had to back down now. Of course, AFAIK that's not what Xi Jinping would do (unlike his predecessor Hu Jintao, who respects the System, e.g. term limit, strictly. He might have locked up Liu Xiaobo but at least Hu didn't kill him. Xi did).
I think if Xi Jiping really wanted to drive out "foreign influence", he wouldn't blink if we "have to be" put to death, either by starving (because of economic collapse) or concentration camps. But at least we die upright.