Thousands took to the streets on Sunday to oppose Hong Kong’s looming extradition law amendments, in one of the biggest demonstrations since the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
The rally, which kicked off in Causeway Bay, came days after four leaders of the 79-day pro-democracy demonstrations were jailed.
Organisers put the turnout at 130,000, whilst police said 22,800 took part at the peak of the march.
Crowds urged the government to drop the proposals, citing fears over being exposed to China’s opaque legal system. Some carried signs reading “No extradition to mainland China,” as well as yellow umbrellas – a symbol of the Umbrella Movement protests.
Artist Kacey Wong puts on a show ahead of today’s march against Hong Kong’s extradition law amendments. pic.twitter.com/j0VzxV5pLc
— Jennifer Creery 紀寳瑩 (@creery_j) April 28, 2019
Political performance artist Kacey Wong, dressed as a mainland Chinese prison guard, was among the participants. Carrying a baton and wearing sunglasses, he wheeled a red cage through the streets in an art piece called “HK to CN.”
It is the second large-scale protest on the amendments since an estimated 12,000 people took to the streets last month. Police put the peak figure at 5,200.
Before the end of the march, acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung told reporters that the turnout was “not the main point” because there was a practical need for the amendment.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam previously urged the legislature to pass the amendment before July, since Hong Kong courts may be forced to free a man who allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend during a trip to Taiwan last year, if there was no option to extradite him.
In a statement released on Sunday evening, a government spokesperson said: “The Taiwan murder case has clearly shown that serious crimes can happen in any place and at any time. It is just a question who the unfortunate victim may be. Hence, we have to plug the loopholes in the current mechanisms as quickly as possible.”
But critics have accused the government of using the murder case as a pretext to rush through a problematic law.
In February, the government proposed rolling out a case-by-case system that would allow the city to handle extradition requests from jurisdictions where there were no pre-existing deals, most notably mainland China and Taiwan.
The legal sector, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over how the law may be applied.
The march comes shortly after eight pro-democracy activists were sentenced on Wednesday for their involvement in the Umbrella Movement. In their statements before entering the court, many of them urged protesters to join Sunday’s rally.
Three of those sentenced attended the rally, including former student leader Tommy Cheung, who was given 200 hours of community service, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and Lee Wing-tat, both of whom received suspended sentences. The trio were joined by lawmaker Tanya Chan, who had her sentence postponed until June 10 owing to urgent surgery on a brain tumour.
Speaking to HKFP before the rally, Cheung told HKFP he believed the sentencing on Wednesday would influence the turnout of protesters.
The protest, which was organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, got off to a premature start as protesters were ushered out of the packed pedestrian area of Causeway Bay, around 20 minutes earlier than scheduled.
Lam Wing-kee, one of five Hong Kong publishers who vanished in 2015 after selling political gossip on Chinese leaders, fled to Taiwan on Friday over fears of being extradited to the mainland in light of recent government moves to push through the amendments.
Ms. Yeung, who works in the education sector, told HKFP that the proposed amendments are worse than Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires the city to enact a host of national security-related laws, if enacted. “It is a very draconian and seriously dangerous law if passed,” she said.
When asked about the government’s decision in March to exclude nine commercial crimes from the amendments, Yeung said: “Those concessions are quite limited. There are many circumstances that are not covered, that are not commercial but relate to different aspects of life.”
Student Ms Wong, 19, told HKFP she believes the government’s amendments are narrow-sighted. “I don’t see why the Hong Kong government is opposed to alternative suggestions,” she said.
Chan Tong-kai – the 19-year-old suspect at the centre of the Taiwan murder case – will be sentenced on Monday on charges of money laundering. The legislative debate on the extradition law is also set to continue next week.
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