Date
15 December 2019
A police officer fires tear gas during a demonstration on June 12 against the government's extradition bill. Authorities are facing growing calls to order an investigation into the use of strong-arm tactics by the police on the protesters. Photo: Reu
A police officer fires tear gas during a demonstration on June 12 against the government's extradition bill. Authorities are facing growing calls to order an investigation into the use of strong-arm tactics by the police on the protesters. Photo: Reu

Why the govt must order an inquiry into June 12 clashes

Following a huge public uproar and mass street protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced last Saturday that she was suspending her push to enact changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance.

At a press conference, Lam insisted that the “original purposes” of the proposed extradition law changes were to address a Taiwan murder case and plug some existing loopholes in the law.

The decision to put off the bill indefinitely failed to de-escalate the situation, with opposition groups calling for total withdrawal of the plan and also demanding that Lam step down from her post. 

A demonstrator fell to his death on Saturday after unfurling a large banner to protest the extradition bill, prompting further outpouring of anti-government sentiment. On Sunday, almost two million people turned up for the fresh protest march, according to the organizer, Civil Human Rights Front.

The rapidly deteriorating situation prompted the administration to issue a statement on Sunday night, conceding that the proposed law changes have resulted in “substantial controversies and disputes in society, causing disappointment and grief among the people.”

As such, the statement added, the chief executive apologizes for the way the government handled the issue, and that she pledges to “adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public”.

“Having regard to the strong and different views in society, the government has suspended the legislative amendment exercise at the full Legislative Council with a view to restoring calmness in society as soon as possible and avoiding any injuries to any persons,” the statement said.

Going by the statement, there is no timetable for re-launch of the legislation process. In other words, though the government didn’t use the word “withdraw”, the extradition bill is effectively on the back burner now.

In our opinion, sometimes even good intentions can end up going bad.

No matter whether an original purpose is motivated by good faith or not, it can backfire if executed poorly. The manner in which the government had been pitching the extradition bill to society in the past few months is definitely a textbook example.

If the assumption that Lam has been keeping her own counsel over the legislative push and refusing to listen to people’s opinion stands, the least she had to do was apologize to the public.

However, apart from apologizing, in order to soothe people’s anger at a protest being categorized as a “riot”, we believe the government should set up an independent commission of inquiry into the clashes that took place between the police and protesters on June 12.

An inquiry is needed to determine if the police were justified in using the measures they did — firing tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds — to quell the protesters. Meanwhile, if anyone was found to have violated the law, they should be taken to court.

On Monday night, the police seemed to back down on their previous categorization of the June 12 clashes in Admiralty as a riot, apparently taking note of the public indignation.

In theory, the saga over the extradition law changes has drawn to a close.

Nonetheless, if Lam wants to show that she is sincere and humble and that she is willing to accept suggestions from the public to improve trust in the administration, a thorough probe is needed into the June 12 clashes and the investigation handled in a fair and impartial manner, in accordance with the law.

We believe such action would help in healing the social wounds in the wake of the recent events.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 17

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal