Police in Central Hong Kong Stop, Search Subway Passengers Ahead of Vote


2019-06-11
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china-search2-061119.jpg Police stop and search young Hong Kong residents traveling the subway on June 11, 2019.
Facebook / Claudia Mo

Protests broke out at a Hong Kong subway station on Tuesday as police stopped and searched young people in an apparently targeted operation to find potential protesters, as lawmakers gear up to debate highly unpopular changes to the city's extradition laws.

"On Tuesday evening, officers stopped a number of young people and searched them," government broadcaster RTHK reported. "They were told to line up as officers went through their bags one-by-one."

Such searches are highly uncommon in Hong Kong, which was promised the maintenance of its traditional freedoms of expression and association, under the terms of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

The authorities have also closed Civic Square outside government headquarters to the public, and cordoned off parts of a public park nearby, to prevent people from gathering ahead of Wednesday's vote.

Pro-democracy lawmakers arrived to protest the searches, while a small crowd gathered, chanting slogans telling the police to leave.

The face-off came as civil rights groups called on Hong Kong people to go on strike from Wednesday in protest at plans to allow the rendition of people named by Beijing as criminal suspects to face trial in a mainland Chinese court.

"The Civil Rights Front is calling on all citizens to go on strike, and to boycott class, and to shut down their businesses," the group's convenor Jimmy Sham said.

"We want to get all of Hong Kong out onto the streets, gathering, signing petitions ... and surrounding the Legislative Council [LegCo]," he said.

Sham said the protests and occupation will continue until Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam withdraws the planned amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.

Call to continue protests

Claudia Mo, who convenes the pan-democratic camp in LegCo, called for the protests to continue until next week, when the bill could be put to the vote.

"We will start surrounding LegCo from tomorrow, particularly after everyone gets off work tomorrow evening," Mo said. "We are hoping that this action will continue until next Thursday."

Police senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters that some of the 19 people arrested during clashes that followed a million-strong street protest on Sunday are suspected of inciting violence.

"They were all carrying the same stuff: gypsum powder, smoke cake, or dry ice, with the intention to create chaos in public," Kong said. "Some people were even teaching others how to make a variety of weapons online, including petrol bombs."

"This poses a great danger to public safety and is a very serious crime. The police will use appropriate force to stop it immediately," he said.

The amendments will undergo their second reading in LegCo on Wednesday, after which lawmakers will vote to decide if it goes to a third reading.

'Matter of urgency'

The amendments have been flagged as a matter of urgency by ruling Chinese Communist Party officials, and pro-Beijing lawmakers command a comfortable majority in the legislature.

LegCo president Andrew Leung said he will limit the debate on the amendments to 66 hours over the next week, with a vote scheduled for as soon as next Thursday.

A number of higher education institutions, including the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Polytechnic University, Baptist University, City University and the Academy of Performing Arts have seen calls for campus-wide class boycotts.

Pupils at around 72 secondary schools have also announced class boycotts, so as to swell the ranks of the crowd outside LegCo.

Dozens of social and religious groups have said they plan to join the protests, while more than 1,000 businesses are set to close.

Flight attendants, pilots, and ground staff at Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon airlines are also discussing strikes, while at least three of the big four accountancy firms have indicated they will tolerate flexible working hours from employees over the next few days.

LegCo officials have indicated that they will issue warnings to anyone in the vicinity of the main building, and restrict access to the chamber.

Worrying plans


Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam responded by calling the protest plans "worrying."

"I am appealing to schools, parents, institutions, and companies [not to] encourage young people into radical behavior regarding important policies and legal issues," Lam said.

"Trade unions also ought to seriously consider whether it is good for Hong Kong if they advocate such actions," she said. "Everyone should know that breaking the law carries consequences, and such consequences will have a big impact ... on young people's lives."

An estimated 1.03 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a massive outpouring of public anger, but Lam merely reiterated her determination to get the proposed amendments to the extradition law through the legislature.

Critics fear the planned amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which will likely be waved through by a pro-Beijing majority in LegCo, 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.

Threat to status

The government's planned legal amendment—which the ruling Chinese Communist Party wants 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 Tam Siu-yin and Lee Wang-yam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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