Hundreds of thousands are protesting an extradition bill in Hong Kong. Here’s why. – USA TODAY
Proposed amendments to a Hong Kong extradition bill that would allow the transfer of criminals to China drew hundreds of thousands of protesters.
Hundreds of thousandsÂ of protesters flooded the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to demonstrate against proposed amendments to an extradition bill, which would allow the transfer of those accused of crimesÂ to mainland China.Â
The massive demonstrationÂ took place just three days before Hong Kong’s full legislature considers the bill, which critics fearÂ would let China target political opponents in the former British colony and could undermine itsÂ judicial independence.Â
The Sunday protest wasÂ one of the biggest in recent Hong Kong history. Police estimated the crowd at 240,000;Â organizers said it was closer toÂ 1 million.Â
After around 10 hours of peaceful protest,Â tensions rose whenÂ a group of protesters stormed the barriers at the government headquarters. The group briefly made it to the lobby, but police responded with batons and pepper spray.Â
Here’s a closer look:
Why is theÂ billÂ controversial?Â
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 when it was handed over to China as a territory. However, the city is still semi-autonomous, retaining its own political, social and legal systems as part of the “one country, two systems” agreement.Â
OpponentsÂ say the extradition bill will allow China to increase control over Hong Kong’s legal system and willÂ target political dissidents, who critics fear could then face unfair trials.Â Proponents, namely the city’s government, say the revised billÂ will help fight crime and maintain order.Â
Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has prior agreements with, or on a case-by-case basis. China was excluded because of concerns overÂ its troubled history with legal independence and human rights.
The amendmentsÂ would allow Hong Kong courts to extradite people to jurisdictionsÂ even lacking this prior agreement. Despite widespread opposition, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has championed the legislation.Â
Who are the protesters?Â
People fromÂ all walks of life marched in the streets Sunday, from toddlers to the elderly, wearing white to symbolize the color of light, according to the South China Morning Post.Â
âIf I didnât come out now, I donât know when I would have the chance to express my opinion again,â said Kiwi Wong, a 27 year-old protester. âBecause now weâve got to this stage, if you donât come out to try to do what you can, then it will end up too late, you wonât be able to say or do anything about it.â
Retired primary school teacher Pun Tin-chi expressed his frustration with officials, telling the PostÂ the amendmentsÂ will prevent Hong Kong from becoming a safe haven for criminals.Â
âI donât even know what I can say to these officials,” Tin-chi said. “All I can say is, I am already 70 years old and I cannot believe I am witnessing how they have been telling lie after lie.”
Activist Lee Cheuk-yan, a former Hong Kong legislator, said the autonomy of Hong Kong needs to be protectedÂ and noted potential economic drawbacks to the revisions.Â
“The people of Hong Kong want to protect our freedom, our freedom of speech, our rule of law, our judicial systemÂ and also our economic foundation, which is welcome to international investors,â Cheuk-yan said. “If international investors lose confidence in Hong Kong because of this evil bill, then Hong Kong, economically, would also be destroyed.â
What is the government response?Â
In a statement late Sunday, the government acknowledged the rights of the protesters to voice their criticisms.
“We acknowledge and respect that people have different views on a wide range of issues,â the statement said. âThe procession today is an example of Hong Kong people exercising their freedom of expression within their rights as enshrined in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.â
Lam’s government claims the revisions are needed in order to close legal loopholes. It will formally put forward the amendments of the billÂ on Wednesday and hopes for approval by the end of the month.Â
Contributing: The Associated Press