Thousands of Hongkongers Take to Streets to Protest Proposed Extradition Law Changes
Legislation introduced on April 3, 2019 to alter Hong Kong’s extradition policy has reignited the discontent of many Hongkongers, with thousands taking to the streets in successive weeks to demand a halt to the proposed changes that would make it easier to extradite individuals into the People’s Republic of China’s secretive judicial system.
Organizers of the most recent protest, which took place on Sunday, April 28, estimated that more than 100,000 people attended the march through central Hong Kong — an area reminiscent of the pro-democracy protests that occurred in 2014. The protests drew many individuals who have not marched in years or have never marched at all, suggesting widespread discontent stemming from the fact that many Hongkongers simply do not wish to be involved within China’s encompassing jurisdiction that has the potential for “everyone [to] be caught up by the central government [in Beijing] without reason.”
Currently, Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements with mainland China, Macau or Taiwan. Changes to Hong Kong’s current extradition policy arose over a case in February 2018 of the gruesome murder of a Hong Kong woman by her boyfriend, also a Hongkonger, which took place in Taiwan. The boyfriend was subsequently arrested in Hong Kong and, while charged with several crimes related to theft of the woman’s property, would not be faced with murder charges under local Hong Kong laws.
Taiwanese officials have sought help from Hong Kong officials to extradite the boyfriend but Hong Kong authorities say they simply cannot comply because of the lack of an extradition agreement with Taiwan.
Thus, the amended extradition policy would allow Hong Kong to make it easier to send suspects to such jurisdictions, including mainland China. The new legislation would permit Hong Kong to “surrender fugitives to any jurisdiction” with which the city had no preexisting extradition agreement, to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Critics of the proposal have voiced concerns that the new bill would potentially subject Hongkongers to arbitrary detention, unfair trial, and torture, opening new avenues for mainland China to infringe on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Additionally, “known fugitives” from China would be the most vulnerable under the new extradition law. Lam Wing Kee, a notable Hong Kong bookseller who was abducted and detained in China in 2015 for operating a bookstore that sold material critical of Chinese leaders, has stated that he will be seeking refuge in Taiwan as the Hong Kong government pushes for the amendments to be passed within the next three months.
The protests on Sunday were claimed by the pro-democracy opposition to be the biggest protest in several years, most notably also including protestors who demonstrated in Tiananmen Square in 1989, activists and journalists said. To many of the activists in Hong Kong, the change is only another avenue in which China will tighten its grip on Hong Kong — a violation of the “one country, two systems” pledge made by China when the city was handed over from the United Kingdom in 1997.
Despite growing criticism of the proposed amendments, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam asserted that the changes to extradition laws were necessary to prevent Hong Kong from becoming “a haven for offenders of serious crimes” while making repeated assurances that no one would be extradited for political crimes as the Hong Kong courts still hold jurisdiction to approve extradition requests.
However, the policy is poised to be seen as the new test of the waning autonomy of Hong Kong governance and jurisdiction — one which rests on the inherited legal system of the British and the looming, ever-growing jurisdiction of Beijing that has long sought a hand in Hong Kong’s governance.