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Hong Kong ‘suspends’ renditions bill as campaigners insist on total withdrawal

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators take to the street of Hong Kong on June 9, 2019, to protest against the extradition bill being put forward by the Hong Kong government, which the people of Hong Kong fear could be used as a political tool by the Beijing central government to arrest and transfer political activists who are against the Chinese government to the mainland. (Chan Long Hei/SOPA Images/Zuma Press/TNS)
June 16, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam on Saturday announced the suspension of her government’s bid to change the city’s extradition law to allow renditions to mainland China, but organizers of recent mass protests said the concession was unacceptable, and that a demonstration planned for Sunday would go ahead.

“After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society,” Lam told a news conference on Saturday.

“The [Legislative] Council will halt its work in relation to the bill until our work in communication, explanation and listening to opinions is completed. We have no intention to set a deadline for this work,” she said.

However, Lam stopped short of complete withdrawal of the bill, and continued to justify police use of rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray as a necessary means to restore “order.”

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized a million-strong peaceful protest against the proposed legal amendment last Sunday, said Lam’s concession was unacceptable.

“The world was shocked by the fact that Hong Kong’s police fired on its people,” the group said in a response on its Facebook page. “Today, Carrie Lam’s response was that it was a natural part of law enforcement. ”

“Withdrawal, not suspension! See you tomorrow in Victoria Park!” it said, in a reference to the starting point for Sunday’s march.

The post called for a complete withdrawal of the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, a retraction of the government’s description of protesters as “rioters,” the pursuit of those responsible for police brutality, and for Lam’s resignation.

Too little, too late

The group’s position was echoed by pro-democracy lawmakers.

“Democrats in Hong Kong simply cannot accept this suspension, because a suspension is temporary,” Claudia Mo, convenor of the pro-democracy camp in the Legislative Council (LegCo), told government broadcaster RTHK.

“The pain is still there; you are just delaying the pain,” Mo said, calling Lam’s concession “too little, too late.”

“If she stays on, we stay on,” Mo said in reference to Wednesday’s surrounding of LegCo by protesters that sparked police violence and forced the legislature to shut down for two days.

Mo also called on the government to stop calling the mass protest a “riot.”

“It was not a riot in any sense,” she said.

Hong Kong police said they would facilitate “a safe and orderly public event” on Sunday.

“Police appeal to the event participants to remain calm, be considerate and co-operative, as well as to express their views in a peaceful manner,” the government said in a news release about traffic arrangements for Sunday’s march.

‘Taiwan no excuse’

In her announcement, Lam said that the original urgency behind the extradition amendments had now been lost, because Taiwan officials had repeatedly said that their democratic government wouldn’t follow any extradition process that resulted from them.

The inability of Hong Kong to extradite one of its residents to Taiwan to face trial for murder had been a key plank of Lam’s justification for the renditions law.

But Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu hit out at Lam on Twitter, calling her attempt to use Taiwan as an excuse for the extradition plan “shameful.”

“I’m deeply upset by the assault on freedom & #HumanRights in #HongKong,” Wu wrote in a signed tweet on the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ official account.

“Chief Executive Carrie Lam must listen to the people & take full responsibility,” Wu said. “Blaming #Taiwan is immoral, shameful & unacceptable. Embrace democracy & stand on the right side of history!”

Police condemned

Wednesday’s protests by tens of thousands of people led to the postponement of a LegCo debate on the bill’s second reading, and the widespread condemnation of police for their use of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and beatings in their bid to disperse the crowds.

An estimated 1.03 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong last Sunday in a mass demonstration against the amendments, but Lam at that time merely reiterated her determination to get the proposed amendments to the extradition law through the legislature.

Critics fear the amendments could pose a huge threat to Hong Kong’s way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the “one country, two systems” framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.

The move also sparked widespread concern that the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, and that journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and the business community could all be targeted for actions deemed illegal by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Reported by RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.