Opponents of the Hong Kong government’s controversial extradition bill are hoping to repeat the large-scale protest march they held in April with an even higher turnout.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a coalition of pro-democracy groups, announced on Tuesday that the rally will be a response to the government’s move to unilaterally accelerate the bill’s journey through the legislature. Protesters are scheduled to march on June 9 from Causeway Bay to the government’s headquarters in Admiralty.
“If [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam isn’t concerned about 130,000 people, this time we will aim for 300,000,” said CHRF convenor Jimmy Sham, referring to the turnout from the previous demonstration on April 28.
Earlier in the day, Lam stood firm behind the move to circumvent the bills committee, though she called it a “very difficult decision.”
“This is not an act of disrespect of the Legislative Council,” Lam told reporters.
“We have simply no option in order to break the deadlock and the impasse that we have seen… This is more, I would describe, a responsible and decisive act of the executive.”
Security chief John Lee announced on Monday that the bill will resume its second reading at the full Legislative Council on June 12, bypassing committee-level scrutiny.
It marks an apparent u-turn for the administration which said, a week earlier, that the executive branch would not intervene to help lawmakers resolve their differences. Pro-democracy lawmakers have stalled the legislative process of the bill, which would allow Hong Kong to transfer fugitives to jurisdictions with which the city has no pre-existing extradition deal.
‘Foreign forces’ involved
Lam also defended the involvement of Beijing’s office in Hong Kong, saying it was “reasonable” because the matter had escalated beyond local politics. On Friday, the director of the China Liaison Office Wang Zhimin summoned over 100 loyalists and told them to back the extradition bill.
“At the later stages, this incident saw some changes – which some people describe as foreign governments, foreign forces getting involved, and even using this [bill] to disrupt the relationship between the central government and Hong Kong, and recklessly attacking the judiciary and human rights system in the mainland,” Lam said.
“This then is not just an internal matter for the bill or the Hong Kong government, but has escalated to the level of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the Basic Law.”
In Beijing, the Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng, who is responsible for overseeing Hong Kong’s affairs, met with a delegation from the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations on Tuesday.
Han told attendees that the central government fully supports Lam’s administration, and that the bill was in accordance with Basic Law requirements and would benefit Hong Kong’s rule of law.
However, the latest move from the administration also fueled further scepticism – even from outside the pro-democracy camp. Lawmaker Michael Tien said he was “taken aback” that the government decided to effectively contradict the House Committee, which was trying to source solutions from within the legislature.
“The House Committee had a 5pm deadline to gather written proposals to resolve the deadlock. We don’t know what would happen before 5pm today… If there is a miracle before then, will the government still insist on the June 12 date?” Tien said.
Miriam Lau, an honorary chair of the pro-establishment Liberal Party and the former head of the legislature’s House Committee, said that the government was introducing unnecessary confusion.
“The House Committee hasn’t even decided to disband the bills committee – it is still consulting with lawmakers over what to do,” Lau told RTHK. “Then, apropos of nothing, the government actively requested the [deadline] of June 12 – it seems very confused.”
“I believe that if there is procedure, then people should follow procedure. Otherwise, it sets a bad example,” Lau added.
The chief executive also encountered protesters on Monday evening while attending an anniversary event hosted by Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao.
As Lam was giving a speech, artists Sampson Wong and Ching Chin-wai held up placards with the slogan “Withdraw the evil law” in silent protest.
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