Hong Kong’s Protest Against Amendment of the Extradition Bill
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Despite over a million people showing up to protest against the amendment to the extradition bill in Hong Kong on Sunday night, June 9, 2019, on Monday, June 10, 2019, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam says there is little merit in delaying Beijing-backed legislation that ease extraditions to China. This amendment of extradition bill prompted one of Hong Kong’s largest protests since the former British Colony returned it to China more than 2 decades ago. Bloomberg’s Karen Leigh reports on “Bloomberg Daybreak: Europe.” in the video “China blames U.S. for massive Hong Kong protest“, below:
Carrie Lam confronted the largest political crisis in office when her government pushed for the amendment to the extradition law in mid 2019, which drew widespread concerns and opposition both at home and abroad. On June 9, 2019, hundreds of thousands to over a million of protestors marched against the amendment to the extradition bill and called for her to step down.
To better understand the situation, please refer to the excerpt in wikipedia, in italics, below:
The 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests are a series of demonstrations (March 31, April 28, June 6, June 9, 2019) in Hong Kong and other cities around the world, demanding the withdrawal of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 proposed by the Government of Hong Kong. It is feared that the bill would cause the city to open itself up to the long arm of mainland Chinese law and that people from Hong Kong could fall victim to a different legal system.
Various protests has been launched in Hong Kong by the general public and legal communities. Among these, the June 9, 2019, protest organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, which the organization estimates was attended by 1.03 million people, has gained large mass media coverage. Protests in other places were also launched by overseas Hong Kong people.
Despite the widespread demonstrations, the government insists on the bill’s passage, claiming that the bill is urgent and that the legal “loophole” should be fixed.
Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019
The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 (Chinese: 2019年逃犯及刑事事宜相互法律協助法例(修訂)條例草案) is a proposed bill regarding extradition to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (Cap. 503) in relation to special surrender arrangements and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance (Cap. 525) so that arrangements for mutual legal assistance can be made between Hong Kong and any place outside Hong Kong. The bill was proposed by the Hong Kong government in February 2019 to request the surrender of a Hong Kong suspect in a homicide case in Taiwan. The government proposed to establish a mechanism for transfers of fugitives not only for Taiwan, but also for Mainland China and Macau, which are not covered in the existing laws.
The introduction of the bill caused widespread criticism domestically and abroad from the legal profession, journalist organisations, business groups, and foreign governments fearing the further erosion of Hong Kong’s legal system and its built-in safeguards, as well as damaging Hong Kong’s business climate. They were concerned about the heightened risk that Hong Kong citizens and foreign nationals passing through the city could be sent for trial to mainland China, where courts are under Chinese political control. Authorities in Taipei stated that Taiwan would not agree to extradite any suspects from Hong Kong, on grounds that Taiwanese citizens in Hong Kong would be at greater risk of being extradited to Mainland China under the proposed bill, and suggested that legislation was politically motivated. The Hong Kong government’s rush to implement the legislation to extradite also gave rise to a precedent to short-circuit procedural safeguards in the Legislative Council.
On 9 June, protesters estimated to number from hundreds of thousands to more than a million marched in the streets against the extradition bill and called for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down.
In early 2018, 19-year-old Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing in Taiwan, proceeding to return to Hong Kong. Chan admitted to Hong Kong police that he killed Poon but the police were unable to charge him for murder or extradite him to Taiwan because no agreement is in place. Until May 2019, the two ordinances in Hong Kong, the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance, were not applicable to the requests for surrender of fugitive offenders and mutual legal assistance between Hong Kong and Taiwan. In February 2019, the government proposed changes to fugitive laws, establishing a mechanism for case-by-case transfers of fugitives by the Hong Kong Chief Executive to any jurisdiction with which the city lacks a formal extradition treaty, which it claims will close the “legal loophole”.
- To differentiate case-based surrender arrangements (to be defined as “special surrender arrangements” in the proposal) from general long-term surrender arrangements;
- To stipulate that special surrender arrangements will be applicable to Hong Kong and any place outside Hong Kong, and they will only be considered if there are no applicable long-term surrender arrangements;
- To specify that special surrender arrangements will cover 37 of the 46 items of offences based on their existing description in Schedule 1 of the FOO, and the offences are punishable with imprisonment for more than three years (later adjusted to seven years) and triable on indictment in Hong Kong. A total of nine items of offences will not be dealt with under the special surrender arrangements;
- To specify that the procedures in the FOO will apply in relation to special surrender arrangements (except that an alternative mechanism for activating the surrender procedures by a certificate issued by the Chief Executive is provided), which may be subject to further limitations on the circumstances in which the person may be surrendered as specified in the arrangements;
- To provide that a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Chief Executive is conclusive evidence of there being special surrender arrangements, such that the certificate will serve as a basis to activate the surrender procedures. Such activation does not mean that the fugitive will definitely be surrendered as the request must go through all statutory procedures, including the issuance of an authority to proceed by the Chief Executive, the committal hearing by the court and the eventual making of the surrender order by the Chief Executive. Other procedural safeguards, such as application for habeas corpus, application for discharge in case of delay, and judicial review of the Chief Executive’s decision, as provided under the FOO will remain unchanged;
- To lift the geographical restriction on the scope of application of the Ordinance; and
- To provide that case-based co-operation premised on the undertaking of reciprocity will be superseded by the long-term MLA arrangements once the latter have been made and become effective.
Opposition expressed fears about the legislation that the city would open itself up to the long arm of mainland Chinese law and that people from Hong Kong could fall victim to a different legal system. It therefore urged the government to establish an extradition arrangement with Taiwan only.
The business community also raised concerns over the mainland’s court system. The Liberal Party and the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA), the two pro-business parties, suggested 15 economic crimes being exempted from the 46 offences covered by the extradition proposal. The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) criticised that mainland’s “criminal process is plagued by deep flaws, including lack of an independent judiciary, arbitrary detention, lack of fair public trial, lack of access to legal representation and poor prison conditions”. The government responded to business chambers’ concerns by exempting nine of the economic crimes originally targeted. Only offences punishable by at least three years in prison would trigger the transfer of a fugitive, up from the previously stated one year.
On 1 April, Hong Kong billionaire tycoon Joseph Lau, former chair of the Chinese Estates Holdings who was convicted of bribery and money laundering in a land deal in Macau in 2014, applied for a judicial review over the bill in court. Lau’s lawyers asked the court to make a declaration that the surrender of Lau to Macau would contravene the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. Lau made an abrupt U-turn and dropped a legal challenge on 29 May, saying that he “loves his country and Hong Kong” and that he now supported the legislation.
The Hong Kong Bar Association released a statement expressing its reservations over the bill, saying that the restriction against any surrender arrangements with mainland China was not a “loophole”, but existed in light of the fundamentally different criminal justice system operating in the Mainland, and concerns over the Mainland’s track record on the protection of fundamental rights. The association also questioned the accountability of the Chief Executive as the only arbiter of whether a special arrangement was to be concluded with a requesting jurisdiction without the scrutiny of the Legislative Council or without expanding the role of the courts in vetting extradition requests. Twelve current and former chairs of the Bar Association warned that the government’s “oft-repeated assertion that the judges will be gatekeepers is misleading” as “the proposed new legislation does not give the Court power to review such matters and the Court would be in no such position to do so.”
Three senior judges and twelve leading commercial and criminal lawyers called the bill “one of the starkest challenges to Hong Kong’s legal system” in a Reuters report. They feared it would “put [the courts] on a collision course with Beijing” as the limited scope of extradition hearings would leave them little room to manoeuvre. They worry that if they tried to stop high-profile suspects from being sent across the border, they would be exposed to criticism and political pressure from Beijing. The judges and lawyers said that under Hong Kong’s British-based common law system, extraditions are based on the presumption of a fair trial and humane punishment in the receiving country—a presumption they say China’s Communist Party-controlled legal system has not earned.
Three human rights groups, the Amnesty International, Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, and Human Rights Watch opposed the bill, warning the extradition proposal could be used as a tool to intimidate critics of the Hong Kong or Chinese governments, peaceful activists, human rights defenders and could further expose those extradited to risks of torture or ill-treatment. In a joint statement issued alongside other journalists unions and independent media outlets, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said the amendment would “not only threaten the safety of journalists but also have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”
Although Taiwan authorities attempted to negotiate directly with the Hong Kong government to work out a special arrangement, the Hong Kong government did not respond. Taipei also stated it would not enter into any extradition agreement with Hong Kong that defined Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China. It opposed the proposed bill on grounds that Taiwanese citizens would be at greater risk of being extradited to Mainland China. “Without the removal of threats to the personal safety of [Taiwan] nationals going to or living in Hong Kong caused by being extradited to mainland China, we will not agree to the case-by-case transfer proposed by the Hong Kong authorities,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council. He also described the Taipei homicide case as an “excuse” and questioned whether Hong Kong government’s legislation was “politically motivated”. He added that Taiwanese people feared ending up like Lee Ming-che, a democracy activist who disappeared on a trip to the Chinese mainland and was later jailed for “subverting state power”.
Bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who claimed he was kidnapped by Chinese agents in Shenzhen in 2015, left Hong Kong for Taiwan on 27 April, fearing the proposed extradition law would mean he could be sent to mainland China.
On 28 April, an estimated 130,000 protesters joined the march against proposed extradition law. The turnout was the largest since an estimated 510,000 joined the annual July 1 protest in 2014.A day after the protest, Chief Executive Carrie Lam was adamant that the bill would be enacted and said the Legislative Councillors had to pass new extradition laws before their summer break, even though the man at the heart of a case used to justify the urgency of new legislation Chan Tong-kai had been jailed for 29 months shortly before. She also dismissed the assertion that the mainland was intentionally excluded from the extradition laws ahead of the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 as “trash talk”. She denied that there were fears over the mainland’s legal system after the handover, or that China had agreed to the exclusion. However, her claim was refuted by last colonial governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten and then Chief Secretary Anson Chan. “Both Hong Kong and China knew very well that there had to be a firewall between our different legal systems,” said Patten. Patten also warned that the extradition law would be the “worst thing” to happen in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover, saying that it would remove the firewall between Hong Kong and mainland China. Malcolm Rifkind, former British Foreign Secretary who oversaw the final stages of the handover, also denied that the lack of extradition arrangements between Hong Kong and the Mainland was “a loophole”. He stated that “negotiators from both China and the UK made a conscious decision to create a clear divide between the two systems so that the rule of law remains robust”, and that “lawyers and politicians from across the political spectrum in Hong Kong have proposed multiple other viable solutions which will ensure that Chan faces justice”.
Legislative Council row
The pro-democracy camp which stringently opposed the law, deployed filibustering tactics by stalling the first two meetings of the Bills Committee, even preventing the election of a committee chairman. In response, the House Committee with pro-Beijing majority removed Democratic Party‘s James To, the most senior member, from his position of presiding member, and replaced him with Abraham Shek of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA), the third most senior member, by bypassing the second most senior member Leung Yiu-chung, a pro-democrat. To claimed that the move was illegitimate, adding that the secretariat had abused its power in issuing the circular without having any formal discussion. The pro-democrats insisted on going ahead with a 6 May meeting as planned which was rescheduled by Shek with only 20 members present. To and Civic Party‘s Dennis Kwok were elected chair and vice chair of the committee.
Attempts to hold meetings on 11 May descended into unprecedented chaos as the rival factions pushed and shoved each other along the packed hallway for the control of holding meeting in the same room. A number of legislators fell to the ground, including Gary Fan who fell from a table before he was sent to hospital. On 14 May, the meeting with two rival presiding chairmen descended into chaos again. Subsequently, pro-Beijing presiding chairman Abraham Shek announced that he could not hold a meeting and had asked the House Committee for guidance. On 20 May, Secretary for Security John Lee announced that the government would resume the second reading of the bill in a full Legislative Council meeting on 12 June, bypassing the usual Bills Committee. After a five-hour meeting on 24 May, the House Committee of the Legislative Council dominated by the pro-Beijing camp passed a motion in support of the government’s move to resume the second reading of the bill at a full council meeting on 12 June.
In essence, this is a grass-roots movement by the people in Hong Kong due to fear of vulnerability to mainland Chinese authority. But Hong Kong government defends the bill, saying the bill is designed to plug legal loopholes by allowing them to decide on case by case basis whether to send suspects to places where it does not have a formal extradition agreement, such as mainland China. This protest march will end at the city’s Legislative Council, where debates will start on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. It is expected that there will be another protest on Wednesday, when the Hong Kong parliament will be debating this bill.
This extradition bill is drawing criticism from United States as well as Europe, for the extradition bill, if passed, would allow suspects to be sent to China to face trials.
After weeks of growing local and international pressure, the protest is expected to reflect the broad range of opposition to the bill, with many saying they simply cannot trust China’s court system or its security apparatus.
The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago, and is seen by the financial hub’s business and diplomatic communities as its strong remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.
Concerns have spread from the city’s democratic and human rights groups to secondary school students, church groups and media lobbies as well as corporate lawyers and pro-establishment business figures, some usually loathe to contradict the government.
For the sake of the health of people in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan, may parliamentary members of Hong Kong reach an equitable position for all concerned.
Gathered, written, and posted by Windermere Sun-Susan Sun Nunamaker More about the community at www.WindermereSun.com
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