Opposition lawmakers were removed from Hong Kong's legislature on Thursday after they called chief executive Carrie Lam a liar and took issue with her defense of proposed amendments to an extradition law that will allow the rendition of suspects to mainland China.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo was forcibly removed from the Legislative Council (LegCo) chamber, holding high a placard opposing planned changes to the city's extradition law that would allow the rendition of suspects to mainland China, at Beijing's request.
Mo had earlier shouted “You are lying!” at Lam, after she claimed that there had been no concerns about human rights protections for extradited suspects during the pre-1997 British colonial administration of Hong Kong, and that opponents of rendition to mainland China had "misunderstood."
LegCo president Andrew Leung called on Mo to retract her accusation.
"I most certainly will not!" Mo retorted.
"If you won't retract, you will have to leave the chamber," Leung said.
Meanwhile, Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung demanded to know why Lam had ignored repeated expressions of concern from the international community over the planned amendments.
"I would really like to get a clear answer from the chief executive," Yeung said. "If she is that concerned about Hong Kong's international status, why does she ignore the voices of the international community?"
"Even if she ignores the international community, can she also ignore the voices of her traditional allies?" he said, citing opposition to the move voiced by the business community.
Hong Kong's International Chamber of Commerce recently wrote to LegCo members hitting out at Lam's administration for failing to engage in meaningful consultation on the proposed changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, according to copies of the letter posted by Claudia Mo to her Twitter account.
"The administration has only allowed a short period of limited consultation for an issue which practically affects working and living in Hong Kong," the letter said. "This is most unbecoming in terms of public governance."
"The crux of the matter ... is the adverse impact on Hong Kong as a place to live and work, and to continue growing as a major international business center attracting overseas investment," the letter said. "We are disappointed at such sudden notice."
Yeung also took aim at Lam's claim that opponents of the amendments had merely misunderstood them.
"Is it really the case that the entire world has misunderstood Carrie Lam?" he said. "That only this bunch of officials have it right?"
Six other pro-democracy lawmakers were ordered out during the turbulent 90-minute session, during which Lam accused them of talking "nonsense."
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai accused Lam of back-pedaling on promises of autonomy made to Hong Kong ahead of the 1997 handover, under the "one country, two systems" framework.
"You have done more damage to Hong Kong than [former chief executive and shipping magnate] Tung Chee-hwa, and [former chief executive] Leung Chun-ying," Wu said.
"How many people will have to take to the streets before you give up and withdraw this law on renditions?"
Wu later yelled a profanity at Lam as he was manhandled from the chamber by security guards.
'Extreme speech, unnecessary fear'
Lam said that fears around the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, currently before LegCo, were the result of "extreme speech and unnecessary fear."
“It was not what was said, that there were fears over the mainland’s legal system after the handover, or that China had agreed to it,” Lam said. “This is all nonsense.”
However, declassified U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) files published online by the research group Decoding Hong Kong's History showed that officials were keen to avoid an extradition agreement with mainland China ahead of the 1997 handover amid concerns about the country's legal system, including the likely treatment of suspects and the lack of access to a fair trial.
U.K. law, which applied at the time, states that extradition requests should be turned down in the absence of minimum guarantees and protections accorded to suspects.
"If you look back at the declassified files, Britain set up an extradition agreement for Hong Kong in 1992, stressing that the government was primarily considering the human rights situation of the countries concerned," Decoding Hong Kong's History said via Medium.
"The FCO also stressed that even if Hong Kong is returning to China, the relevant human rights standards are still applicable for 50 years [after the handover], and that these standards must be kept," it said.
It said Australia signed an extradition treaty with China, but that the ratification process has stalled over concerns that there are no guarantees for the human rights of suspects.
In Washington, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in a report on Tuesday that the proposed amendments could further erode the city's promised autonomy, and pose a security risk for U.S.
citizens and companies.
The planned changes to the city's Fugitive Offenders Ordinance will, if passed, allow the Hong Kong government to respond to case-by-case requests for extradition, in the absence of a bilateral treaty with the requesting jurisdiction.
The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which currently has no extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
"A Hong Kong government extradition bill would—if passed into law—increase the territory’s susceptibility to Beijing’s political coercion and further erode Hong Kong’s autonomy," the report said.
"The bill would remove independent legislative oversight in the extradition process," it said. "Such changes would undermine the strong legal protections guaranteed in Hong Kong and leave the territory exposed to Beijing’s weak legal system and politically motivated charges."
Reported by Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.