Top Beijing official speaks out on HK extradition bill

May 22, 2019 14:29
Vice Premier Han Zheng (foreground, right) meets with a delegation from the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations on Tuesday in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua

After Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said last week that revision of Hong Kong’s extradition laws is an urgent matter for the city, another senior Beijing official has now weighed in on the matter, signaling the central government's determination to see the controversial amendments pushed through in Hong Kong's legislature.

During a meeting in Beijing with a delegation from the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations on Tuesday, Vice Premier Han Zheng, who is in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, told the more than 100 delegates that the proposed changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance, are fully in line with Hong Kong's Basic Law.

If the amendments are passed, they will give Hong Kong's rule of law a boost and help enhance fairness and justice in the city, Han said, adding that Beijing fully supports the Hong Kong government’s move to revise the fugitives transfer law.

With the comments, Han becomes the highest-ranking central government official to publicly voice support for the law revision that would make it possible for Hong Kong to adopt a one-off, case-based approach to transfer fugitives or offer legal assistance to all jurisdictions with which the city has no agreements.

At the meeting, which was also attended by Zhang and Beijing’s Liaison Office director Wang Zhimin, Han told the delegation, in front of media cameras, that he believes the Hong Kong government would be able to allay people’s concerns and achieve a consensus on the proposed legislation.

The vice premier called on members of the federation to unite with people from all walks of life in Hong Kong, firmly safeguard China's sovereignty, security and development interests, and promote the cause of "one country, two systems”, Xinhua reported.

Zhang told the delegation during a meeting on Monday that the work of revising the extradition laws has turned into a political struggle, moving beyond legal issues.

He criticized the opposition camp in Hong Kong, accusing it saying things with the aim of frightening members of the public and creating social fear.

Stressing that the proposed amendments necessary, appropriate, reasonable and lawful, Zhang pointed out that the mainland has sent 248 fugitives back to Hong Kong since 2006, and that the territory needs to reciprocate.

He assured that Hongkongers who commit crimes in Hong Kong will not be extradited to the mainland after the law changes.

The comments came as a second massive street protest against the extradition law amendments is brewing in Hong Kong after the territory's government announced this week that it was fast-tracking the bill in the Legislative Council.

Hong Kong's Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu told media on Monday that he had issued a letter to Starry Lee Wai-king, chairman of Legislative Council’s House Committee, in a bid to take the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 straight to the full council, bypassing the bills committee that has been stuck in an impasse that prevented it from deliberating on the bill.

The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which organized the first protest rally last month and claimed to attract about 130,000 participants, said on Tuesday that it plans to launch another one three days before a second reading of the bill.

Figo Chan Ho-hang, CHRF’s deputy convenor, called on each one of those who had joined the demonstration on April 28 to bring ten people with them and take to the streets on June 9 to voice their opposition to the bill and demand the government retract it.

Noting that the second street demonstration could possibly be the last one of the kind organized by CHRF to protest the proposed law changes, Chan said he is confident that the turnout will be as much as 300,000.

According to the pro-democracy group, it will shelve its original plan to gather outside the Legislative Council Building even if the demonstration next month draws in huge numbers as expected.

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