Hong Kong protesters demonstrate against extradition bill

Protesters attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on 9 June 2019 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Critics say the plan will erode the city’s judicial independence

Tens of thousands of people are marching in Hong Kong against a law critics fear could let China target political opponents in the territory.

The controversial extradition bill would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial.

The protests are expected to be the biggest since the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets.

The government says the bill has built-in protections and will plug loopholes.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has pushed for the amendments to be passed before July. Supporters say safeguards are in place to prevent anyone facing religious or political persecution from being extradited to mainland China.

But the bill’s critics say those in the former British colony would be exposed to China’s deeply flawed justice system, and it would lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.

Protesters, dressed in white, marching in the sweltering heat, include a wide range of people – from business people and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups.

“This the end game for Hong Kong, it is a matter of life or death. That’s why I come,” Rocky Chang, a 59-year-old professor, told Reuters news agency. “This is an evil law.”

What are the proposed changes?

The changes will allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoings, such as murder and rape.

The requests will then be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hong Kong is part of China but has its own judicial system

Hong Kong officials have said Hong Kong courts will have the final say over whether to grant such extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.

The government has sought to reassure the public with some concessions, including promising to only hand over fugitives for offences carrying maximum sentences of at least seven years.

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Media captionTensions flare up with lawmakers jumping over tables

There has been a lot of public opposition, and critics say people would be subject to arbitrary detention, unfair trial and torture under China’s judicial system.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Hong Kong and China – one country, two systems

Why the change now?

The latest proposal has come after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend, while holidaying in Taiwan together in February last year. The man fled Taiwan and returned to Hong Kong last year.

Taiwanese officials have sought help from Hong Kong authorities to extradite the man, but Hong Kong officials say they cannot comply because of a lack of extradition agreement with Taiwan.

But the Taiwanese government has said it will not seek to extradite the murder suspect under the proposed changes, and has urged Hong Kong to handle the case separately.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Under Xi Jinping, Beijing is seeking increasing control over Hong Kong

Isn’t Hong Kong under Chinese rule anyway?

A former British colony, Hong Kong is semi-autonomous under the principle of “one country, two systems” after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The city has its own laws and its residents enjoy civil liberties unavailable to their mainland counterparts.

Hong Kong has entered into extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the UK and the US, but no such agreements have been reached with mainland China despite ongoing negotiations in the past two decades.

Critics have attributed such failures to poor legal protection for defendants under Chinese law.

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