Pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong on Wednesday moved to impeach the city's chief executive Carrie Lam for her bid to force through legal changes allowing extradition to mainland China in the face of massive public opposition, sparking the six-month pro-democracy and anti-extradition protest movement.
Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung moved the motion in the city's Legislative Council (LegCo), backed by 24 other pro-democracy lawmakers, which accuses Lam of "serious breach of law and/or dereliction of duty" and calls for an independent investigation into her conduct.
"Moving a motion at Legco today to impeach Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the person who should be solely responsible for the unprecedented political turmoil since June," Yeung said via his Twitter account. "Carrie Lam must go!"
Lam had shown "disregard of mainstream opposing views," and had "unrelentingly pushed through a highly controversial bill," according to the text of the motion.
"Lam ... not only ignored overwhelming mainstream opinion in Hong Kong, but also insisted [on] the resumption of the second reading debate on the Bill," it said, prompting another mass protest at which police used excessive force to crack down on demonstrators.
"Many protesters who participated in the march against the Bill on 9 June 2019 were subjected to the use of pepper sprays, beating with batons and pursuit by the Police ... many witnesses saw that the Police officers aimed at protesters’ vital body parts when they fired," the motion said.
"Police officers had thrown tear gas canisters at the areas where crowds gathered, regardless of the fact that letters of no objections had been obtained in respect of the peaceful assembly in those areas, which might have caused tragedies," it said, citing multiple media footage shot at the time.
"In fact, the citizens gathering that day were just exercising their freedom of assembly and speech protected by the Basic Law. By laying grave charges with an intent to silence opposing voices, the Government has demonstrated a lack of basic respect for different views," the motion said.
"We are deeply disappointed with the unconstitutional acts by the chief executive ... and demand her resignation," it said.
Other demands refused
Lam eventually withdrew the legal amendments that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, but protesters also want fully democratic elections to LegCo and for the post of chief executive, an amnesty for the thousands of people arrested since protests began, an end to the use of the term "rioting," and an independent inquiry into police violence.
Lam and her officials have repeatedly ruled out meeting any of the other demands.
Meanwhile, her administration has responded to growing concerns that the police's use of copious amounts of tear gas in recent months could pose a threat to public health by saying that fumes from barbecues were likely more harmful.
Police have fired more than 10,000 rounds of tear gas since early June, but officials have refused to publish the chemical composition of the weapons it is using on the streets.
Welfare Secretary Law Chi-kwong told LegCo on Wednesday that tear gas only causes mild respiratory and skin irritation.
"For the dioxins resulting from tear gas, I think it has been found from literature that it is minimal or even non-existent. In fact when compared with dioxins resulting from our barbecue activities, I think the level is indeed very minimal," Law said.
He repeated that the government wouldn't be publishing the chemical profile of the tear gas being used, something that would enable healthcare professionals to better treat the effects.
Long-term health effects
But pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung cited studies indicating long-term and even permanent effects of tear gas exposure on human health.
"If you don't do a follow-up survey and research, you simply won't know the impact of tear gas on people, especially on vulnerable people," Cheung said.
A public hospital ER doctor surnamed Wong told RFA that he has seen a spike in cases of diarrhea, menstrual disorders, and skin problems linked to tear gas exposure in recent months.
He said that while data proving a direct cause and effect link is lacking, there is a clear correlation between the spike in cases and the use of tear gas in public places in recent months.
"Some people have long-term respiratory problems, and some people have some long-term lesions in the lungs, which affects their respiratory function," Wong said.
"These are relatively rare complications, but in the circumstances under study, tear gas grenades were used under normal circumstances ... not in densely populated places; not all in the same place and within the space of a single night, with thousands of canisters fired."
Wong said the chemical composition of the U.S.-made tear gas grenades that were used in the first few months of the protest movement is in the public domain, suggesting that the government is now sourcing them from somewhere else.
"We are very worried about these new ones, which are probably made in mainland China or eastern Europe, and I don't know what strange ingredients they have in them," Wong said. "The only way to know is for them to make it public."
Reported by Man Hoi-tsan and Lu Xi for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.