Hong Kong vows to push ahead with controversial extradition law despite huge protest

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 Hong Kong’s chief executive claims the extradition bill has nothing to do with mainland China.

Hong Kong’s leader has vowed to push ahead with a law allowing suspects to be extradited to mainland China a day after the city’s biggest protest since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Key points:

  • Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam is facing calls to resign
  • But she says amendments to the bill would safeguard human rights
  • The law has generated unusually broad opposition in the city

Riot police ringed Hong Kong’s Parliament and fought back against a hardcore group of several hundred protesters who stayed behind early on Monday (local time) after Sunday’s peaceful march that organisers said drew more than a million people, or one in seven of the city’s residents.

The protests plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.

Chants echoed through the high-rise city streets on Sunday calling on her to quit.

Protesters hold placards during a rally against an extradition law in Hong Kong.

“Extradite yourself, Carrie!” one placard read.

But Ms Lam said her administration would go ahead with the bill, though with additional amendments that she said would safeguard human rights.

“This bill is not about the mainland alone. This bill is not initiated by the central people’s Government. I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill,” she told reporters.

“We were doing it — and we are still doing it — out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong.”

She said the bill would have a second reading debate as planned on Wednesday in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council, which is now controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

The rendition bill generated unusually broad opposition, from normally pro-establishment business people and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups.

protesters march in Hong Kong

They feared corrosion of Hong Kong’s legal autonomy and the difficulty of ensuring basic judicial protections in mainland China.

Organisers put the size of Sunday’s crowd at more than a million, outstripping a demonstration in 2003 when 500,000 took to the streets to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws.

Police put the figure at 240,000 at the march’s peak.

Many thousands were still waiting to join the march from Victoria Park on Hong Kong island on Sunday as tens of thousands of others reached the Legislative Council building in the Admiralty business district.

About 1,000 people joined a protest in Sydney and another protest was also reported in London.

Police officers use pepper spray against protesters in a rally against an extradition law in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said the Government had improved the entire proposal to show it had been responding to social demands.

“I hope that in the Legislative Council, everyone can continue the discussion in a frank, peaceful and rational way and continue to follow up on this matter,” he said.

‘Everyone is feeling more despair’

'Everyone is feeling more despair'

A look back at Hong Kong’s handover to China 21 years later.

US and European officials issued formal warnings, matching international business and human rights lobbies that feared the changes would dent Hong Kong’s rule of law.

The former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 amid guarantees of autonomy and various freedoms, including a separate legal system, which many diplomats and business leaders believe is the city’s strongest remaining asset.

But many have accused China of extensive meddling in a number of sectors, denying democratic reforms and squeezing freedoms, interfering with local elections and the disappearances of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders. 

All later appeared in detention in China, and some appeared in apparent forced confessions broadcast in Hong Kong.