Hong Kong postpones second reading of extradition bill

[Hong Kong: Thousands of protesters gather outside government headquarters Wednesday, June 12, 2019 in opposition to a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the semiautonomous territory. /PTI]

Hong Kong, June 12 : Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on Wednesday postponed a session in which a second reading of a contentious extradition bill was to take place amid massive opposition on the streets outside.

“The President of the Legislative Council (Andrew Leung) has directed that the Council meeting of June 12, 2019 scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. today be changed to a later time to be determined by him. Members will be notified of the time of the meeting later,” the council said in a statement, reported Xinhua news agency.

Hong Kong’s Parliament was cordoned off by the police among thousands of demonstrators who went onto the streets to protest against the contentious extradition bill, known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, which as law would allow individuals to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.

On Tim Mei Avenue, police put up a flag that said “Disperse or we fire,” according to Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post. While it escalated tensions, no clashes have been reported in the area so far.

In contrast to the color white chosen for Sunday’s protests (when more than a million people poured onto the streets, although the police put the figure at 240,000), many protesters on Wednesday chose to wear black.

Some also wore masks to avoid being identified and to protect themselves from the pepper spray used by the police in isolated protests reported on Sunday.

“Take back extradition law!” was one of the slogans chanted by the protesters, most of them young.

“The government is against the will of people and continues to pass the law,” Democratic Party spokesperson Lam Cheuk-ting said on Wednesday.

The proposed law, which was first tabled in February and the bill of which will be put to a final vote on June 20, would allow Hong Kong to process case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, including mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, and without direct legislative supervision.

In theory, local courts would handle cases individually and could use veto powers to block extraditions.

The government maintains that the bill is necessary to cover a legal vacuum.

The bill has also faced staunch opposition from journalists, foreign politicians, non-governmental organizations and companies over fears that residents in Hong Kong – which belongs to China but has its own laws and currency – accused of crimes will be sent to mainland China.

In this way, local activists and dissidents living in Hong Kong could also be sent to mainland China for trial.

The Communist regime, devoid of control mechanisms and without any real separation of powers, pledged in 1997 – when Hong Kong’s sovereignty was returned to China from the United Kingdom – to keep the system left by the British until 2047, although Beijing’s pressure on the archipelago has been increasing.

/IANS

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