Huge demonstrations filled the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday as people enraged by the jail sentences recently handed down to democracy movement leaders turned out to protest an extradition agreement with China.
The size and passion of the demonstrations might have come as a surprise to the pro-China administration in Hong Kong, which seemed convinced it had just about finished off the democracy movement. Instead, thousands of demonstrators demanded the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam. Some protesters carried yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the 2014 pro-democracy protests that all but paralyzed the city.
Philippine news site Rappler spoke to demonstrators who expressed their frustration with the jail sentences handed down to leaders of the Umbrella Movement last week. Others spoke out against the proximate cause of the protest, an extradition agreement with the mainland they characterized as “legalized kidnapping of Hong Kong people to China.”
Rappler quoted the final British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, explaining that expedited extradition to China will compromise Hong Kong’s judicial independence and further alarm investors worried about Beijing tightening its grip on the city.
“Societies which believe in the rule of law do not reach agreements like this with those who do not. These changes are an assault on Hong Kong’s values, stability, and security,” Patten said.
“They say if you’re innocent you shouldn’t be afraid. But the legal system in China changes. They can make up the law and say that people did whatever they want,” a Hong Kong schoolteacher explained to the UK Guardian as he marched with his 18-month-old daughter in his arms.
A prominent Hongkonger named Lam Wing-kee, wanted in China for selling forbidden books seen as insulting to Communist Party leaders, raised strong objections to the new rules. Lam believes he would be immediately extradited and says he already spent several months undergoing “mental torture” at the hands of Chinese security agents, an experience he does not wish to repeat.
Lam has relocated to Taiwan for his safety. Some Taiwanese officials are concerned the new Hong Kong rules could establish a legal pipeline for arresting and extraditing Taiwanese citizens when they visit Hong Kong.
The Guardian found people marching on Sunday who said they have never been politically active before, or have not demonstrated in decades, not even during the Umbrella moment. Some saw the extradition issue as an opportunity to voice their profound distrust of Beijing and its loyalists in Hong Kong, including Carrie Lam.
Lam defended the extradition law on Monday and said she still plans to get it passed by the legislature in July, ostensibly because the rules also cover extraditions to Taiwan and a murder suspect is waiting to be tried there.