Hundreds of thousands march against Hong Kong extradition law

Proposed law would make it easier to extradite people to mainland China

Protesters attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong. AFP
Protesters attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong. AFP

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against a new law that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to China to face trial.

Organisers of the march said the size of the protest exceeded the July 1, 2003 march when half a million people turned out to block proposed national security laws.

Sunday's protest was the culmination of widespread criticism of the extradition bill from lawyers, students, and other countries, including the United States, and came three days before the government plans to present the bill to legislators in a bid to win approval by the end of the month.

The government in Beijing says the bill will put an end to loopholes in the island's current laws, allowing it to decide on a case-by-case basis to extradite fugitives to territories where it has no such deal.

Opponents say the say would subject them to China's court and security system, which runs counter to Hong Kong's special status. The former British colony was returned to China in 1997 but retained the right to its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years under a "one country, two systems" framework.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam insists that adequate safeguards are in place to ensure those facing political and religious persecution, torture or the death penalty would not be extradited.

The chief executive has to sign off on any extradition, court hearings and appeals must first be exhausted and the government has insisted judges will play a key "gatekeeper" role. But some senior judges have expressed fears over the changes.

Veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To said he believed a big turnout could sway Hong Kong's embattled government.

"It could really force a severe re-think by the government," he told Reuters. "There is everything to play for ... People really sense this is a turning point for Hong Kong."

Hong Kong has a population of approximately 7.5 million people, according to UN data.

Sunday's march will cap an unusually political week for the city. Some 180,000 people held a candle-lit vigil on Tuesday to mark 30 years since the Tiananmen Square democracy protests, and the city's lawyers held a rally on Thursday.

The bill has received international criticism, with some nations threatening to remove special permissions for the semi-autonomous region.

Foreign ministers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany have spoken against the bill and envoys from 11 European Union countries met Hong Kong's chief executive to protest against the move.

A US State Department spokeswoman on Saturday said the bill "puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs".

Influential Republican Senator Marco Rubio has repeatedly criticised the bill and a spokeswoman for his office said he was expected to reintroduce his bipartisan "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act", which would update a 1992 law that has afforded Hong Kong trade and economic privileges not enjoyed by mainland China.

The act would ask the US Secretary of State to certify each year that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous before enacting news laws or agreements granting the state different treatment.

Hong Kong is one of two special administrative regions of China, which grants it the highest degree of autonomy and is not considered a part of mainland China. The other region is the former Portuguese colony of Macau.

Updated: June 9, 2019 04:37 PM

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