Hong Kong’s legislature descended into chaos on Saturday morning as pro-Beijing and pro-democracy lawmakers fought for control over the vetting process of a controversial extradition bill.
Multiple lawmakers said they were injured during the physical clashes: Gary Fan from the Neo Democrats fell down and was carried out on a stretcher, while his pro-Beijing rival Chan Han-pan ended up with his arm in a sling. Pro-Beijing lawmakers Elizabeth Quat and Alice Mak also said they were hurt.
Starry Lee, of the pro-Beijing DAB party, said they would consider asking the police to intervene as it is an offence to obstruct legislators from their duty. Some injured lawmakers also said they planned to individually report their cases to the police.
The two camps were each asserting their authority to convene the bills committee, which resulted in parallel meetings scheduled for the same morning.
The committee was intended to vet the Hong Kong government’s extradition proposal, which put forward a case-by-case system that would allow the city to accept rendition requests from countries with which it had no previous agreement.
Democratic lawmaker James To led a meeting at 8:30am, after several democrats remained in the meeting room overnight to ensure they would have access. The meeting began despite the lack of any pro-Beijing lawmakers in attendance.
The legislature’s secretariat – which was accused of pro-Beijing bias this week – did not sanction the meeting and provided no support. As the legislature’s administrative body, it would normally provide staff for duties such as minute-taking, broadcasting and translation.
Lawmaker Abraham Shek, who had earlier contested To’s legitimacy to preside over the committee, tried to enter the same meeting room at 9am along with his pro-Beijing colleagues.
Democrats waylaid Shek on his way to the chamber, and the confrontation resulted in democrat Claudia Mo and others falling to the ground.
A 20-minute struggle ensued after Shek entered the meeting room, with pro-Beijing lawmakers forming a ring around him as he tried unsuccessfully to reach the front.
He then moved to his seat, as democrats tried to seize the microphone from him, saying the meeting was illegitimate.
After receiving a few shouted nominations for the committee’s permanent chairperson, Shek retreated to a nearby waiting room.
At around noon, Shek met with reporters and said that – in his view – no chairperson for the bills committee had been chosen yet. He said he heard the pro-Beijing camp nominate Paul Tse, and democrats nominating someone else, but he had to adjourn the meeting as it had become too chaotic.
Shek made a call for civility, saying that he “had never seen such a dreadful situation in his 19 years as a lawmaker.”
Pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo said that, if the “twin committee” situation appeared again, democrats would stand firm and “contest it to the end.”
Democrats concluded their meeting on the bill by lunchtime. Meanwhile, the pro-Beijing side abandoned a second attempt to resume their committee meeting amid further chaotic scenes.
The meeting on Saturday morning was preceded by a rally the night before, with protesters gathering outside the Legislative Council in opposition to the extradition bill.
Organisers the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) put the turnout at “a few thousand,” while police said 1,250 people attended at its peak. Speakers called for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down, calling her a “liar” and demanding that the extradition plan be scrapped.
Tam Tak-chi, an activist from People Power nicknamed “Fast Beat,” was arrested after he refused to remove a protest banner. Police said the banner blocked the sightline of drivers on the road, and that Tam had obstructed officers from doing their duty.
At around midnight, scuffles broke out between a small group of protesters and the police, who were trying to evict people from the protest zone. Some activists then relocated to Tim Mei Avenue where they pitched tents.
As of lunchtime on Saturday, Shek said that there would be no further meetings for the day.
Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.