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Hong Kong officials formally withdraw hated extradition bill that sparked protests

Carrie Lam, then-Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong. (Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons)
October 23, 2019

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

The Hong Kong government on Wednesday formally removed its disastrous extradition bill from a list of proposed legislation after the plan sparked several months of mass protest and popular uprising on the city’s streets.

The hugely unpopular amendments to the city’s extradition laws that would have allowed the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts are now formally withdrawn, secretary for security John Lee told lawmakers in the Legislative Council (LegCo), amid heckles from pro-democracy members.

“For the purpose of spelling out clearly the position of the Special Administrative Region Government, in accordance with rule 64(2), I formally announce the withdrawal of the bill,” Lee said.

Lee officially withdrew the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, months after chief executive Carrie Lam promised that the bill was “dead” on June 15 following mass protests and allegations of violence by riot police.

Protesters kept turning out in huge numbers in spite of Lam’s announcement, saying that her verbal assurance offered little protection, and subsequently made formal withdrawal of the bill the first of five demands, which also include an independent inquiry into police violence, an amnesty for thousands of arrestees, an end to the description of early protests as “riots,” and fully democratic elections for LegCo and the post of chief executive.

In recent weeks, protesters have also called for the Hong Kong Police Force to be disbanded after reports began to emerge of the torture, mistreatment, and sexual abuse of detained protesters in police custody, and amid growing criticism of their use of force as disproportionate.

The bill’s withdrawal is unlikely to sit well with Beijing, and comes after the Financial Times reported that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is planning to have her step down in the next few months.

‘A political rumor’

The report, which cited inside sources, was dismissed by China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday as a “political rumor with ulterior motives.”

“The central government will continue to resolutely support chief executive Carrie Lam and the Special Administrative Region government in ruling according to law, and in putting a timely end to violence and chaos and restoring public order,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of social policy at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said Lam’s predecessor Tung Chee-hwa had stepped down before the end of his second term in the job, citing health reasons, after half a million people protested over his plans to bring in subversion and sedition legislation under Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

He said Beijing is unlikely to allow Hongkongers to vote in fully democratic elections for the city’s leader, even if Lam does step down.

“Back then, the pro-democracy camp had no way to put up a candidate to contest the [commmittee-based] election against Beijing’s preferred candidate Donald Tsang,” Chung told RFA. “But if there were fully democratic elections, the pan-democrats would have enough votes to put forward a candidate.”

“The way Beijing sees it, there would be no way for them to control the outcome.”

No difference to Beijing

Chung said the fact that the Basic Law contains a commitment to move towards fully democratic elections in Hong Kong makes no difference to Beijing.

“The Chinese Communist Party is quite capable of ignoring anything the rest of the world understands by these laws,” he said. “They will just interpret them in their own way.”

The Financial Times reported that the ruling party is mulling plans to install an “interim” chief executive to cover the remainder of Lam’s term in office, which runs until 2022.

It said leading candidates include the former head of the Monetary Authority, Norman Chan, and former Chief Secretary Henry Tang.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said he was astonished by the report, and that changing leaders was no way to resolve the political crisis.

He called on the government to respond to the protesters’ demands instead.

Police abuses seen

Meanwhile, police officers’ associations have hit out at Rocky Tuan, vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, after he failed to question his students’ claims of police abuses in custody.

Tuan had said that he would call on Carrie Lam to start an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, torture, and misconduct made by some his students against the police force.

“Only the truth can bring justice to all,” Tuan said in a letter to students following an emotional meeting during which some spoke out about allegations of police abuse in detention.

The police groups dismissed the idea of an independent investigation into police conduct as “ridiculous.”

Protesters have rejected Lam’s insistence that complaints about police violence and abuse be dealt with through the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), because it relies on police officers to investigate their colleagues.

The city’s Independent Police Complaints Council has no legal investigative legal powers, and also relies on internal investigations by police themselves.