HK government formally scraps extradition bill

October 23, 2019 16:43
Secretary for Security John Lee announced the government's withdrawal of the extradition bill at the Legislative Council on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

The Hong Kong government has formally withdrawn the extradition bill that sparked nearly five months of massive and often violent protests, but the move was unlikely to end the unrest as it met just one of five demands of pro-democracy protesters.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu announced the move at the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

Pan-democratic legislators shouted slogans and demanded Lee's resignation, RTHK reported.

"For the purpose of spelling out clearly the position of the Special Administrative Region Government, in accordance with rule 64(2), I formally announce the withdrawal of the bill," Lee said.

The rallying cry of the protesters, who have trashed public buildings, MTR stations and shops, set street fires and thrown petrol bombs at police, has been “five demands, not one less”, meaning the withdrawal of the bill makes no difference.

Police have responded to the violence with water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and several live rounds.

The protesters are also asking for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, retracting the categorization of the protests as "riots", amnesty for all arrested protesters, and implementation of universal suffrage.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had said many times the bill was as good as dead and the other demands were beyond her control.

“There aren’t any big differences between suspension and withdrawal [of the extradition bill]... It’s too little, too late,” said 27-year-old protester Connie, hours before the bill was withdrawn. “There are still other demands the government needs to meet, especially the problem of police brutality.”

Protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing encroaching on the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” formula enshrined during the handover in 1997, which permits the city wide-ranging freedoms not available on the mainland such as an independent judiciary.

The extradition bill would have allowed defendants charged with serious crimes to be sent for trial abroad, including to Communist Party-controlled courts in China.

The bill was seen as the latest move by Beijing to erode those freedoms. China has denied these claims and accuses foreign countries of fomenting trouble.

A murder suspect whose case Lam had originally held up as showing the need for the extradition bill walked free on Wednesday as the city’s government squabbled with Taiwan over how to handle his potential voluntary surrender to authorities.

Chan Tong-kai was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan last year before fleeing back to the Hong Kong. Chan was arrested by Hong Kong police in March 2018 and authorities there were only able to find evidence against him for money laundering, for which he was sentenced to 29 months in prison.

Chan has offered to voluntarily surrender himself to Taiwan, but both Hong Kong and Taiwan have clashed over the next steps.

“There’s no such thing as surrender,” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters. “There’s only arrest... We will continue to ask for legal assistance from the Hong Kong government, including providing related evidence and to ask the Hong Kong government not to evade the matter.”

China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province, has offered the “one country, two systems” formula for it to unite with the mainland.

Fiercely democratic Taiwan has rejected the offer, with Tsai saying this month such an arrangement had set Hong Kong “on the brink of chaos”. With Reuters

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