Hong Kong Legislature Shuts Down After Mass Protests Over China Renditions


2019-06-13
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china-hk-journalists-protest-june-2019.jpg This still image taken from a video shows journalists dressed in high visibility jackets and helmets during a police press conference in Hong Kong to protest what they said was excessive force used against them during earlier clashes between police and people protesting a controversial extradition law proposal, June 13, 2019.
AFP

UPDATED at 2:30 P.M. EDT on 2019-06-13

Authorities in Hong Kong shut down the city's legislature on Thursday, after tens of thousands of people prevented a debate on the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to mainland China, and as civil rights groups planned another mass demonstration for the weekend.

The Legislative Council (LegCo) will remained closed for security purposes until the end of the week, amid international criticism of police violence in protests and clashes that left dozens of people injured.

Claudia Mo, convenor of the pro-democracy camp in LegCo, said the legislature should remain closed until the government to withdraws the proposals entirely, however.

"Yesterday, a large number of local people, young people in particular, staged protests so as to obstruct the debate," Mo said. "We democrats have also made it very clear that the Legislative Council should be suspended until [chief executive] Carrie Lam announces the withdrawal of the amendment to the extradition law."

Protest organizers the Civil Human Rights Front said they are planning another rally to keep up pressure on the government to withdraw the amendments, which drew more than a million people onto the streets last Sunday in a mass outpouring of public anger.

And the Anti-Extradition Bill Coalition, which groups a number of civil organizations and professional bodies, called for sanctions on officials and LegCo members who support the amendments.

"Some officials and pro-establishment [LegCo] members ... hold foreign passports and have overseas property and investments, while their children study overseas," Alliance member Tam Hoi-bong told a news conference in Hong Kong on Thursday.

"It is shameful that they are betraying the people of Hong Kong, so we call on the international community to impose sanctions on these officials and LegCo members," Tam said.

More than 30 members of Hong Kong's legal profession issued a statement condemning police violence against protesters, calling for an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality against demonstrators and journalists, after protesters posted video clips to social media to counter accusations of rioting by the government on Wednesday.

The Hong Kong government secretariat will now be temporarily closed for two days, and civil servants are not required to report for work there.

The Mass Transit Railway corporation reopened Admiralty station, the closest to the government complex, at around 2.00 p.m. local time, after shutting it down for some 18 hours at the request of the police.

There was a strong police presence on the streets around government headquarters, the scene of mass protests by tens of thousands of people on Wednesday, as well as many reported cases of police brutality, which have sparked international concern and criticism.

Stop and search continues

Officers in full riot gear, including batons, shields and unidentified guns, continued to stop and search passers-by in the vicinity on Thursday.

Around 100 people held a prayer meeting in nearby Tamar Park on Thursday to pray for Hong Kong, according to a participant surnamed Lam, while a small crowd of people gathered under umbrellas on a pedestrian walkway, singing hymns, later in the day.

"Carrie Lam still refuses to back down, and refuses to discuss anything," Lam said.

He said police had acted very aggressively towards peaceful demonstrators during Wednesday's protest.

"We were here yesterday, and there were several dozen of us trying to have a peaceful demonstration, but the police kept attacking and firing tear gas," he said. "It was wrong of the government to order this."

Journalists have hit out at the police treatment of media workers during the protests, with the Hong Kong Journalists Association receiving more than 15 complaints about police brutality, including beatings and burns with pepper spray, and other forms of harassment and obstruction.

"These are outright infringement[s] of the promised press freedom in Hong Kong," the HKJA said in a statement, citing press freedom guaranteed in Article 27 of the city's mini constitution, the Basic Law.

At least 79 people were injured during Wednesday's protests, while police said they had fired 150 rounds of tear gas, as well as a handful of rubber bullets, 20 beanbags and pepper spray.

Twelve of the injured, who ranged in age from 15 to 66, were receiving treatment in hospital on Thursday, with two in a serious condition, including a driver for government broadcaster RTHK.

Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said 11 people have been arrested so far, and that 22 police officers were injured.

Reporters and photographers wore high-visibility press vests and safety helmets to Lo's press conference in protest over their treatment at the hands of police.

Lo issued a non-apology, saying he was sorry "if some officers had been rude to journalists."

Lawmakers Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk-ting and Helena Wong said they plan to sue the police after being hit with pepper spray as they tried to intervene to prevent police violence.

Highly likely to pass

Li Pang Kwong, associate professor at Lingnan University's politics department, said the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, once debated, are highly likely to be passed by LegCo, owing to an overwhelming majority of pro-government and pro-Beijing members.

"The pro-democracy camp is in the minority in LegCo, so all they can do is to use procedural rules to filibuster," Li said. "But they can only do that up to a point, because the time will eventually come to vote."

Li said the plans to allow the handover of alleged criminal suspects to China based on standards of evidence admissible in Chinese courts would affect Hong Kong's standing as an international city and free port, and affect its separate treatment as a trading entity.

"As an international financial center and trading city, these amendments to the law will affect the legal rights and interests of foreigners in Hong Kong, as well as the safety and security of its own residents," Li said.

"They will also have an impact on the Hong Kong commercial and economic interests of major countries," he said.

Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of social policy at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the amendments are still very likely to be passed.

"Unless the international community forces Beijing to think again, by imposing ... sanctions, I can't see any reason why [the ruling Chinese Communist Party] would order the Hong Kong government to withdraw the amendments," Chung said.

An estimated 1.03 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a mass demonstration against the amendments, but Lam merely reiterated her determination to get the proposed amendments to the extradition law through the legislature, a move critics said sparked clashes between police and protesters as most participants went home.

Critics fear the amendments pose a huge threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.

The move—which Chinese officials have said must be implemented "urgently"—has sparked widespread fear that the city will lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction, and that rights activists and dissidents in the city could be targeted by Beijing for actions deemed illegal across the internal border.

Judges, lawyers, opposition politicians, rights activists, business groups, and journalists have all expressed vocal opposition to the plan, which will allow China to request the extradition of an alleged suspect from Hong Kong based on the standards of evidence that currently apply in its own courts.

The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is mainland China, which currently has no formal extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and Lam has tried to reassure people that legal safeguards will be used to safeguard the rights of suspects.

But lawyers, who last week staged a silent protest at the planned amendments, say the government's supposed safeguards are meaningless.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng and Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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