Hong Kong gov't formally withdraws bill that sparked protests

24, Oct. 2019

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HONG KONG, Kyodo - The Hong Kong government on Wednesday formally withdrew an unpopular bill that sparked months of increasingly violent anti-government protests that show no sign of abating.

Secretary for Security John Lee recalled that the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance amendment bill was suspended in June since there were different opinions about it and disputes in society.

“Now, to more clearly state the government's stance...(I) formally announce the withdrawal of the bill,” Lee said in a Legislative Council session.

The withdrawal announcement was scheduled for last Wednesday, the first day the legislature resumed business after a summer recess, but that meeting was adjourned due to chaos during the delivery of Chief Executive Carrie Lam's policy address.

Citing the need to transfer a murder suspect who fled Taiwan after he allegedly killed his girlfriend while they were traveling there last year, and to plug legal loopholes, the government moved in March to amend the law to allow fugitive transfer to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition treaty, including mainland China and Taiwan.

Under the arrangement, the chief executive would sign off a warrant to arrest a fugitive wanted by a jurisdiction and a Hong Kong court would study the case before approving the transfer request.

But opponents of the bill said the judge would have no power to examine or challenge evidence provided for the removal, thereby eroding the independence of Hong Kong's judiciary.

The government continued to push forward the bill even after Taiwan has said it would not take back the murder suspect even if the bill were passed under circumstances that would see the self-ruled island treated as part of communist-ruled China.

Public discontent about the bill and the government's hard selling approach has been growing, with anti-bill protesters increasing from thousands to as many as two million people who marched on the streets and rallied in protest.

In defiance of calls for the bill's withdrawal, Lam announced suspending the bill in June, which failed to quell public anger.

Facing growing opposition, Lam declared a month later that the bill was “dead,” but still rejected calls for a full withdrawal.

Some of the protests, which were mostly peaceful at first, had ended up in violent clashes with the police. While protesters accused the police of using excessive force, the police also criticized protesters over the use of dangerous weapons like Molotov cocktails and corrosive liquids.

What began as an anti-bill protest had turned into an anti-government, and in some cases anti-China, movement where public facilities like traffic lights were broken and subway stations were extensively damaged, while shops, banks, restaurants and bookstores with links to Chinese business owners were vandalized.

Chinese flags and the emblem at the Central Government Liaison Office were desecrated by some protesters, prompting angry reactions from the government and the pro-Beijing camp.

Protesters' demands have widened to include an independent inquiry into police use of violent tactics against them, pardons for all those arrested and democratic reform.

On Sept. 4, Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the bill when the legislative session resumes, but rejecting all other demands.

Instead, she promised as pacifying measures to beef up an investigation taskforce and have it release a report on complaints against police within months, set up an expert group to study in deep-rooted social problems and hold town hall meetings with the public to gauge attitudes.

But demonstrations have continued almost every day, especially on weekends

Hundreds of people formed a human chain outside the British consulate general office late Wednesday to show support to a motion debate to be held in the British Parliament on Thursday.

David Alton, a member of the upper House of Lords, will move a motion to discuss on the recent political unrest in Hong Kong, and of the calls to offer residents of Hong Kong citizenship in a country other than Britain. (Kyodo)

Secretary for Security John Lee
Secretary for Security John Lee