Pro-democracy leaders and rights activists in Hong Kong warned on Monday that more mass demonstrations like Sunday's rally against changes to the city's extradition law are likely if the government presses ahead in the face of public opposition.
The warnings came after tens of thousands of people took to the city's streets in protest over the amendments which would allow rendition of criminal suspects to mainland China in the absence of an extradition agreement.
In scenes reminiscent of the 2014 democracy movement, many protesters carried yellow umbrellas and called for chief executive Carrie Lam's resignation over the amendments.
"No to rendition to China!" they shouted, using wording that puns on an expression meaning funeral rites in Cantonese. "Down with the evil law! Drop the amendments to the extradition law!"
March organizers the Civil Human Rights Front said an estimated 130,000 people turned out, and warned that protesters would surround the city's legislature if Lam and her administration ignored the wishes of Hong Kong's people.
"If the government doesn't want to withdraw the amendment, the Civil Human Rights Front formally announces to the government that we will surround the Legislative Council," the group's vice convenor Figo Chan said.
"We will also organize teams to explain [the amendments and our opposition] to various groups, so as to oppose this amendment together," he said.
One country, one system
A protester surnamed Lau said he had brought his two daughters along on the march to educate the next generation about the city's promised freedoms and core values.
"I want them to know what is going on in Hong Kong, and whether the values of Hong Kong are being compromised," Lau said. "We're not asking for more. We just want what belongs to Hong Kong."
"The political and legal systems are being monopolized by the government, the central government [in Beijing], and the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party," Lau said. "We have one country, one system now."
Under the terms of the 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms of the press, of speech and association, as well as an independent judiciary and separate legal system, under the "one country, two systems" framework that has sheltered peaceful critics of Beijing until now.
A Hong Kong resident surnamed Yue at the march on Sunday says he has little faith in the Hong Kong government's promise that rendition requests from Beijing will be subjected to stringent human rights protections.
"It would be against natural justice to have Hong Kong democracy activists extradited to face trial in mainland China, once the extradition law is amended," he said.
The march came after a Hong Kong court jailed four founding members of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, handing down jail terms of 16 months to Hong Kong University law lecturer Benny Tai and retired sociology professor Chan Kin-man on public order charges that included "inciting others to cause a public nuisance."
Acting chief executive Matthew Cheung said that those who took part in the march "did not understand" the planned amendments.
In a statement following the demonstration, the Hong Kong government issued a statement saying the amendments were necessary to "plug loopholes" and would be tabled as planned.
"The Government understands that there are different views in the community on the proposed legislative amendments," it said. "The Legislative Council [LegCo] has established a Bills Committee and will soon commence scrutinizing the Bill."
The planned changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance will allow the Hong Kong government to respond to case-by-case requests for extradition in the absence of a bilateral treaty.
The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which currently has no bilateral arrangement with Hong Kong.
Journalists have warned that the new law could both threaten the safety of journalists, who have traditionally used the city as a safe haven, and have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
Fear and uncertainty
Former colonial governor Chris Patten, now Lord Patten of Barnes, said in a statement on Saturday that the proposed changes were "an assault on Hong Kong's values, stability and security."
"They create fear and uncertainty for business at a time when we should all be working to safeguard Hong Kong's reputation as one of the world’s greatest business and financial centres," Patten said, adding that political activism would also be "put in danger."
"They further make it difficult to explain to the outside world that Beijing can be trusted to keep its word and that Hong Kong is different from mainland Chinese cities and must be treated as such," he said.
Currently, suspects must be wanted for a crime that is an offense both in Hong Kong and another jurisdiction with which it has an extradition treaty, and requests are limited to a list of 46 serious crimes including murder, assault, and sex offenses.
But under the proposed changes, citizens of the democratic island of Taiwan and other countries traveling through Hong Kong could also be placed in jeopardy, should Beijing decide that it wanted to accuse them of a crime.
Democratic politicians have also pointed to the arrests of several Canadian nationals on Chinese territory since the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, and to the 2015 cross-border detentions of five booksellers, including a Swedish and a U.K. national, wanted for selling books banned in mainland China to customers there, despite the fact that their actions were entirely legal in Hong Kong.
One of the five booksellers, Lam Wing-kei, has fled Hong Kong for fear he could be redetained and sent back to China if the amended law gets through LegCo.
'No protection anymore'
Lam, who is now on the democratic island of Taiwan, said there are huge differences between the way the island dealt with the 2014 Sunflower movement, in which student-led protesters occupied the island's parliament, and the way Hong Kong has prosecuted the leaders of Occupy Central.
"The charges brought against the nine Occupy Central founders shouldn't be crimes in the first place," Lam told RFA on Monday.
"I'd be finished if I didn't come over here, if they took me back to China," he said. "I'd be finished if I waited for them to make their move, wouldn't I?"
He said he was slightly concerned that he wouldn't be allowed to leave Hong Kong if he left his departure any later.
"There is no protection in Hong Kong anymore, and I don't trust the Hong Kong government," he said, adding that the lack of judicial safeguards in mainland China made a mockery of any extradition arrangement.
"All they have to do is say that you have broken Chinese law, and the Hong Kong government will be able to use this law to send you to mainland China," Lam said. "This has a massive impact on my personal safety."
China's justice system has a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and other ill-treatment, of serious violations of fair trial rights, and of various systems of incommunicado detention without trial, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has warned.
The amendments being proposed in Hong Kong would heighten the risk for human rights activists and others critical of China being extradited to the mainland for trial on fabricated charges, and would be a "devastating blow" to the city's freedoms, it said.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei and Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.