Hong Kong protests: government vows to push ahead with extradition bill

Leader Carrie Lam refuses to withdraw law, which critics fear could be abused by Beijing

The leader of Hong Kong’s government has said she remains determined to pass a proposed extradition law despite a huge protest march against the legislation on Sunday that drew hundreds of thousands of people.

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.

Opponents of the law say it is being pushed by the Chinese government, and fear that Beijing will use it to extradite activists, dissidents and other political opponents who will end up in China’s opaque and politicised courts.

Striking a defiant tone on Monday, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said: “This bill is not initiated by the [Chinese] central people’s government. I have not received any instruction.” Opposition to the bill was a result of a misunderstanding, she added.

The bill’s supporters say it plugs existing loopholes and will prevent the city from becoming a bolthole for fugitives. Hong Kong’s administration is determined to pass the bill before July, and has pegged its urgency on the case of a man wanted for the murder of his girlfriend in Taiwan.

“Hong Kong has to move on,” Lam said. “Nobody wants Hong Kong to be a fugitive offenders’ haven.”

Why are people protesting?

The protests were triggered by a controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the Communist party controls the courts, but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.

Public anger – fuelled by the aggressive tactics used by the police against demonstrators – has collided with years of frustration over worsening inequality and the cost of living in one of the world's most expensive, densely populated cities.

The protest movement was given fresh impetus on 21 July when gangs of men attacked protesters and commuters at a mass transit station – while authorities seemingly did little to intervene. 

Underlying the movement is a push for full democracy in the city, whose leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment rather than by direct elections.

Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until their core demands are met, such as the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested and a permanent withdrawal of the bill.

Lam announced on 4 September that she was withdrawing the bill.

Why were people so angry about the extradition bill?

Beijing’s influence over Hong Kong has grown in recent years, as activists have been jailed and pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from running or holding office. Independent booksellers have disappeared from the city, before reappearing in mainland China facing charges.

Under the terms of the agreement by which the former British colony was returned to Chinese control in 1997, the semi-autonomous region was meant to maintain a “high degree of autonomy” through an independent judiciary, a free press and an open market economy, a framework known as “one country, two systems”.

The extradition bill was seen as an attempt to undermine this and to give Beijing the ability to try pro-democracy activists under the judicial system of the mainland.

How have the authorities responded?

Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations but has left it to the city's semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation. Meanwhile police have violently clashed directly with protesters, repeatedly firing teargas and rubber bullets.

Beijing has ramped up its accusations that foreign countries are “fanning the fire” of unrest in the city. China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi has ordered the US to “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form”.

Lily Kuo and Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

On Sunday hundreds of thousands of people marched in opposition to the bill. Organisers estimate that 1 million people took part in the march – which would make it the city’s biggest protest since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997 – although police put the figure at 240,000 at its peak.

The protests were peaceful until midnight, when police and demonstrators clashed after attempts to disperse some remaining protesters from the area outside the legislative offices.

A protester is detained during a clash after a rally against the extradition law on Sunday.
A protester is detained during a clash after a rally against the extradition law on Sunday. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Another rally will be held on Wednesday, when the second reading of the bill will be debated by legislators.

Martin Lee, a leading barrister, former legislator, and key figure of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, told the Guardian he believed there would be lots more protests if the government did not adequately respond to Sunday’s enormous public showing. Lee said the government was “saying no to democracy and suppressing human rights and the rule of law”.

There is widespread fear in Hong Kong of Beijing’s increasing encroachment into the city, 22 years after it was was returned from British rule to exist under the “one country, two systems” regime, which guarantees it an independent legal system.

Lam said the size of the demonstration showed there were “clearly still concerns” about the bill, but the fact that so many people had taken part showed the city was still free. “I think they clearly demonstrate that these rights and freedoms are as robust as ever,” she said.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs said it continued to firmly support Hong Kong in passing the bill. The ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing “resolutely opposes” the interference of “external forces” in Hong Kong’s legislative affairs. In an editorial on Monday, the state-owned China Daily defended the legislation and blamed opposition parties and “foreign forces” for creating chaos in Hong Kong.

“Any fair-minded person would deem the amendment bill a legitimate, sensible and reasonable piece of legislation that would strengthen Hong Kong’s rule of law and deliver justice,” it said, adding that Hong Kong residents had been “hoodwinked” by the opposition camp and their “foreign allies”.

“Some foreign forces are seizing the opportunity to advance their own strategy to hurt China by trying to create havoc in Hong Kong,” the paper said.


Helen Davidson in Hong Kong and Lily Kuo in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hong Kong's leader withdraws extradition bill that ignited mass protests
Chief executive did not concede to other demands including an inquiry into police violence

Lily Kuo in Beijing and Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

04, Sep, 2019 @12:49 PM

Article image
Conflict breaks out in Hong Kong after latest extradition bill protests
Police in riot gear beat protesters as demonstration continued into late evening

Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

08, Jul, 2019 @3:29 AM

Article image
Clashes in Hong Kong after vast protest against extradition law
Critics say law will allow China to pursue political opponents and legitimise abductions

Helen Davidson in Hong Kong

09, Jun, 2019 @5:22 PM

Article image
Carrie Lam blames Hong Kong education system for fuelling protests
Pro-Beijing leader pledges to overhaul school system, after weekend of heavy-handed police action

Helen Davidson and agencies

11, May, 2020 @8:27 AM

Article image
Wave of arrests in new push by Hong Kong police to thwart protests
Former student leaders among dozens detained in move critics say is attempt to deter protesters from planned rally

Lily Kuo and Erin Hale in Hong Kong

30, Aug, 2019 @5:21 PM

Article image
Hong Kong riot police clash with airport protesters
Batons and pepper spray used on protesters as flights suspended for second day

Erin Hale in Hong Kong, Lily Kuo in Beijing, and Emma Graham-Harrison

13, Aug, 2019 @4:12 PM

Article image
Hong Kong protests: activists call for further action
People urged to continue protests after day of violent clashes with policeWhat are the Hong Kong protests about?

Lily Kuo in Hong Kong

13, Jun, 2019 @9:40 AM

Article image
Hong Kong: Carrie Lam says extradition bill is 'dead' but will not withdraw it
Leader calls legislation ‘total failure’ but will not give in to demands for formal withdrawal

Lily Kuo in Beijing and Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

09, Jul, 2019 @7:22 AM

Article image
Hong Kong police chief admits officers sought to arrest wounded protesters in hospital
Stephen Lo Wai-Chung says officers followed procedure and suggest only a few would face riot charges

Emma Graham-Harrison in Hong Kong

17, Jun, 2019 @5:44 PM

Article image
'Where were the police?' Hong Kong outcry after masked thugs launch attack
Police accused of doing nothing to stop suspected triads storming train station and beating people

Lily Kuo and Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

22, Jul, 2019 @10:20 AM