On Tuesday this week, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the controversial Extradition Bill ‘dead’. The Bill, which has sparked extraordinary protests for over a month, proposed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial.
Many protesters were unhappy with her latest speech, where she said ‘I have, almost immediately, put a stop to the amendment exercise.’
The protests, which began on the 31st March, has since spurred numerous protests of varying tenors: the earlier protests were largely peaceful, with crowds collectively singing “Hallelujah to the Lord”.
At its peak, on June 9, the streets of the city amassed up to one million people. Three days later on June 12, protests turned violent, where the police were seen beating protesters and journalists, firing off tear gas, rubber bullets and water canons.
Hong Kong, a city of 7.3 million, was handed back to China in 1997 and was promised a range of political autonomy and civil freedoms from China. But since then, it has operated under the elusive ‘One party, two systems’ model, and citizens are saying their rights are gradually dissolving under the increasing power of the Chinese Communist Party. All sectors of society have felt the reigns of the party tighten, and news of the Social Credit System, along with the criminal treatment of the Uyghurs population in Xinjiang province is fueling growing fears.
All of this threatens Hong Kong’s main draw-card, which is its adherence to the Rule of Law – the right to protest, and a separation of government and judiciary. You can see why this is so important to the Hong Kong people, who continue to protest – just this Sunday past, more than 100,000 people lined the streets in ongoing demonstrations.
Protesters are not simply protesting about the bill. Their anger is really centred the increasingly volatile status of the former British colony, and the overgrowing power China has over it.
The Extradition Bill saga was ignited over a criminal case which occurred last February. A 20-year old Hong Kong man travelled to Taiwan with his 19-year old girlfriend for a holiday, who was several weeks pregnant at the time. The man returned to Hong Kong days later, alone. When the woman’s body was found, he was charged with her violent murder the following month. Taiwan authorities asked for him to be extradited, but the request was refused, since there was no formal extradition agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In February this year, the Hong Kong government used the case to propose a bill that would allow them to extradite suspects to Taiwan, and other places, including mainland China to stand criminal trial. Since then, all eyes have been on the city, and its Chief Executive, who took office just over 2 years ago in July, 2017 – the first woman to hold the position.
Immediately after her speech on Tuesday, when she claimed the Bill ‘dead’, Joshua Wong, Hong Kong activist and politician, took to Twitter: ‘Carrie Lam saying ‘The Bill is dead’ is another ridiculous lie. The bill exists in the ‘legislative program’ until July next year.’
Protesters are also calling for Lam to resign from her post and for investigations to be conducted into police brutality during the protests. The former might prove harder to achieve, since her role is assigned and selected by pro-Beijing constituents and would require their approval.
The next few weeks will prove challenging for Lam, as the bill hangs in an indefinite ‘suspension.’ Let’s hope her efforts to “heal the society” won’t involve further violence or compromise the safety and rights of the people of Hong Kong.