Hong Kong Leader Caves: Orders Full Withdrawal of Extradition Bill

Hong Kong leader hopes peaceful rally presages 'return to calm'
LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Wednesday that the government would fully withdraw the bill that launched the ongoing pro-democracy movement from the legislature, ceding to one of the five demands protesters have been posing to the government for the past three months.

The bill in question would have allowed the Communist Party of China to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong, not just Hong Kong residents or Chinese citizens, into the Chinese prison system if accused of violating communist “crimes.” China has notoriously “disappeared” thousands of political dissidents into its prison system and severely restricts free speech and religious activity. Multiple investigations have found that China uses its political prisoners as forced organ donors, cutting them open and taking their organs alive to fuel a million-dollar industry.

Hong Kong residents naturally feared that exercising their rights to speech, assembly, or religion in what is ostensibly a free territory would result in being the victims of gross human rights violations and took to the streets this June.

In a public address Wednesday, Lam said the Legislative Council would fully withdraw the bill “in order to fully allay public concerns” and lamented the mostly police-driven violence her government has plunged the city into, though she appeared to equally blamed the peaceful protest movement.

“Our citizens, police and reporters have been injured during violent incidents. There have been chaotic scenes at the airport and MTR stations; roads and tunnels have been suddenly blocked, causing delay and inconvenience to daily life,” Lam narrated. “For many people, Hong Kong has become an unfamiliar place.”

Lam also announced that she would modify the membership of the existing police oversight organization, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. This is a nod to one of the remaining four demands – an independent inquiry on police brutality against protesters – but does not address concerns that the police would exonerate itself of human rights crimes if it conducts the investigation.

“The government believes that matters relating to police enforcement actions are best handled by the existing and well-established [IPCC], which was set up for exactly this purpose,” Lam insisted.

 

The Global Times, a Chinese regime propaganda outlet, was quick to applaud Lam and threaten protesters out of celebrating her moves as a win.

“Though the move is meant to show the SAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government’s sincerity in addressing the political crisis, it should not be seen as a concession by Lam that could lead to a slippery slope,” the Global Times warned, “and radical forces should not have any illusion of winning ground on matters related to the ‘one country, two system’ [sic] principle that governs Hong Kong and China’s sovereignty.”

The Global Times reported that Beijing supported Lam’s decision.

The protesters have made five demands on Hong Kong’s government: a withdrawal of the extradition bill, the independent inquiry on police brutality, freedom for political prisoners, direct election of lawmakers, and an apology for calling the June 12 protest a “riot.” Currently, Hongkongers are allowed to election only half of lawmakers in the Legislative Council, while the others are appointed by a small group of special interests representatives controlled by China. Similarly, only 1,200 Hong Kong residents, part of a special committee, can vote for their chief executive, and even then only among a list of candidates handpicked by China.

Prior to Wednesday, Lam had adamantly refused to withdraw the extradition bill, noting that legislators had tabled it and declaring it “dead” in July. Tabling a bill keeps it alive and allows lawmakers to revive it at any time.

“I have almost immediately put a stop to the [bill] amendment exercise, but there are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity, or worries, whether the government will restart the process in the legislative council, so I reiterate here: There is no such plan, the bill is dead,” she said in July.

Protest movement leaders responded to this declaration by asserting that “dead” is not a legal term for a bill and that she gave no guarantees lawmakers would not bring it back to life.

Her statement followed the destruction of the Legislative Council floor and much of the building it uses as its headquarters. Protesters meticulously destroyed all the technology and every facility used to pass laws, but left historical documents, the building’s cafeteria, and other irrelevant areas untouched.

Lam’s concession follows the publication of a bombshell report this week by Reuters, revealing audio of the chief executive saying she would like to resign from the post, but she is not allowed.

“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable. It’s just unforgivable,” she said in the audio. “If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology, is to step down.”
Lam conceded on Tuesday that the audio is real, but claimed that her choice of words was taken out of context, and that she meant only that quitting was the easiest thing to do. Despite Lam admitting the audio was, indeed, of her voice, the Global Times called the Reuters report “fake,” without elaborating.

Protest leaders have called Lam’s withdrawal of the bill “too little and too late,” insisting they will continue their struggle for freedom from China.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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