A proposed criminal extradition bill that could effectively “kidnap” Hong Kong residents on little evidence is expected to be withdrawn this week following months of protests.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, announced the withdrawal of the bill on Wednesday. The bill, an amendment to the Fugitive Offender’s Ordinance, would have allowed individuals in Hong Kong, including foreign visitors, to be extradited to mainland China to face trial in courts dominated by the country’s Communist Party, Reuters reported
“The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” Lam said in her statement announcing the withdrawal of the bill on Wednesday, as CNBC reported.
The bill was seen by protesters as an infringement on Hong Kong’s governing and economic autonomy from the mainland.
Lam had introduced the same bill back in April, following a proposal by Hong Kong’s Security Bureau to increase extraditions to different parts of China, which Hong Kong did not have prior extradition treaties.
The proposed extradition law saw near-immediate push-back, with marching demonstrations in April and “scuffles” between lawmakers in Hong Kong’s legislature. Near the end of May, some concessions were proposed within the extradition changes, but critics remained opposed to the bill in its entirety.
Protests become more widespread in June, with more than half a million taking to Hong Kong’s streets on June 9th, according to Reuters.
On June 15, Lam had suspended the bill, saying the measure was “dead,” but protests continued as protesters questioned why she did not formally withdraw the bill. Skepticism remained that Lam was simply waiting for a moment of pause in the protests before moving forward with the bill.
Beyond the withdrawal of the extradition bill, protests demands have grown to generally include a list of four other demands, including Lam’s resignation as the Chief Executive. Protesters have also noted police brutality during the protests as an offense and have demanded inquiry into police actions against the protests and for arrested protesters to be released as second and third additional demands. Lastly, protesters are demanding greater democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, suggesting increased autonomy from mainland China.
In the eight-minute statement, Lam noted chaotic moments during the protests, including violence at airports and transit stations, and blocked roads and tunnels.
“We are all very anxious about Hong Kong, our home. We all hope to find a way out of the current impasse and unsettling times,” Lam said.
Lam said the demands of protesters have already been addressed previously. Lam noted the bill’s withdrawal and said that complaints about police brutality, can be handled by the Independent Police Complaints Council. Lam said the IPCC has already prepared inquiries on some of the notable violent events during the protests.
“Each and every prosecution decision is based on the evidence collected,” Lam said, suggesting arrested protesters would not be excused from prosecution.
Lam said dropping charges would be “contrary to the rule of law and is not acceptable.”
It is not yet apparent if the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, a major point of protest demands, coupled with Lam’s statements, will be enough to dissuade continued protests.