‘Make or break moment’ for Hong Kong

 

A prominent young activist has attacked Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam following massive protests over her controversial plan to change laws on extradition to mainland China.

Agnes Chow, 22, said Ms Lam had "ignored the anger of more than a million Hong Kong citizens", after furious demonstrators filled the streets and clashed with police on Sunday.

"Not only me, but I believe most Hong Kong people, have felt really angry with Carrie Lam's response to our rally," the student leader told reporters in Tokyo, where she arrived on Monday to appeal to Japanese media and politicians.

The young leader told Japan's National Press Club she wanted the Japanese government to "pay more attention to this dangerous bill" and guard against creeping restrictions that have put activists on notice.

Matthew Ng Kwok-bun, 50, a visually impaired resident who last attended a 2003 demonstration told the South China Morning Post: "I have absolutely no faith that the city's leader, who does not even dare to talk about the Tiananmen Square crackdown, would play her gatekeeping role well in handling extradition requests from the mainland," he said.

"It is a make-or-break moment for Hong Kong and I have no choice."

Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow has slammed the Hong Kong government’s efforts to push through a law allowing extradition of suspects to mainland China. Picture: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow has slammed the Hong Kong government’s efforts to push through a law allowing extradition of suspects to mainland China. Picture: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

 

Ms Lam is trying to amend the law to allow the extradition of fugitives from Hong Kong to face criminal charges in places with less robust legal systems, including mainland China.

She was accused of being a puppet for Beijing's Communist Party and putting people at risk of human rights abuses and unfair trials without access to lawyers.

"This bill is not about the mainland alone," insisted the Hong Kong chief executive. "This bill is not initiated by the central people's Government. I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill.

"We were doing it - and we are still doing it - out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong."

She said Western democracies had accused Hong Kong of failing to address issues such as money laundering and terrorist financing. The legislation would help Hong Kong uphold justice and fulfil its international obligations, and safeguards would ensure human rights protections, she said.

'EXTRADITE YOURSELF, CARRIE'

More than a million people from all walks of life were said to have marched in the protests thought to be the largest in more than a decade - young and old, lawyers and business people, students and CEOs.

Many waved placards displaying Ms Lam's face with the words "liar" or "Extradite yourself, Carrie" or the Chinese flag superimposed over the top.

In the early hours of Monday morning, several hundred demonstrators broke through barriers at government headquarters and pushed their way into the lobby, clashing with riot police, who used batons and tear gas to force them back.

Nineteen people were arrested and three officers and a journalist were injured, local media reported.

Supporters of Hong Kong in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane - as well as cities across the world including London and Vancouver - took to the streets to oppose the controversial extradition bill.

Zion Lo, from Melbourne community organisation Australia-Hong Kong Link, warned: "If China believes that you are a foreign threat, and if you are travelling through HK, you might be extradited to China, imprisoned and arbitrarily punished.

 

Hong Kong witnessed its largest street protest in at least 15 years on Sunday in a major backlash against the city's pro-Beijing leadership. Picture: AP Photo/Kin Cheung
Hong Kong witnessed its largest street protest in at least 15 years on Sunday in a major backlash against the city's pro-Beijing leadership. Picture: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

 

"China doesn't have a clear concept of fair trials and has consistently engaged in politically motivated prosecutions. China has declared to the world that it does not and will not have an independent judiciary."

US and European officials as well as international business and human rights lobbies said the changes could damage Hong Kong's rule of law. But while the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was monitoring the situation, it is still yet to issue a move to oppose it.

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China backed the proposed amendments and criticised "the wrong words and deeds of any external forces" regarding Hong Kong's affairs.

"Certain countries have made some irresponsible remarks," he said.

TROUBLED HISTORY

Hong Kong is a former British colony that was handed back to China in 1997 with a guarantee of autonomy and a separate legal and political system.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions mostly to jurisdictions with which it has existing agreements, with China excluded because of concerns over its poor record on legal independence and human rights.

But China is believed to be gradually pushing the boundaries by advocating legal changes, preventing reform, interfering with local elections and chipping away at certain freedoms

The protests in Hong Kong this weekend were the biggest since 2003, when residents took to the streets to rally against plans for tighter national security laws.

In 2014, the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement demanded more transparent elections in a 79-day city occupation, with its name referencing the umbrellas held aloft in response to police use of pepper spray on crowds.

Ms Chow was spokesperson for the high school activist group Scholarism, working with founder Joshua Wong Chi-fung to organise a protest of 120,000 people against plans to make "patriotic" education mandatory.

She was at the centre of the Umbrella Movement's Occupy initiative, but stepped down citing "exhaustion" after it ended in failure.

Since 2015, five Hong Kong-based booksellers specialising in works critical of Chinese leaders have disappeared and emerged in detention in China, with apparent forced confessions broadcast in Hong Kong.

Last December, two Canadians were detained and formally arrested by the Chinese government for spying.

In January 2018, Ms Chow was blocked from running for political office because of her Demosisto party's pro-democracy manifesto.

The activist warned China's ruling Communist Party would not guarantee the same rights for the accused that are enshrined in the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong.

'MAKE-OR-BREAK MOMENT FOR HONG KONG'

Ms Lam, who was elected in 2017 by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing Hong Kong elites, made it clear on Monday that she will push ahead with the amendments.

She insisted the bill seeks to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives and has nothing to do with mainland China.

The city's leader said the fact the protest took place proved Hong Kong's commitment to its people's freedoms.

The bill will have a second reading debate as planned on Wednesday in the city's 70-seat Legislative Council, now controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

But the demonstrations have refocused international attention on a territory where many fear Beijing is attempting to increase its control.

International human rights lawyer Simon Henderson told news.com.au that any Australian who travels or transits through the city will be "directly impacted" upon setting foot on Hong Kong soil.

"The reason this is so significant for any individual is because they will be subject to an unfair trial; arbitrary detention; potential torture and a legal system that doesn't protect human rights," he said.