Hong Kong’s legal sector staged a rare protest against the city’s controversial extradition bill on Thursday. Clad in black, several thousand lawyers gathered at Central’s Court of Final Appeal before marching in silence to government headquarters in Admiralty.
They observed a three-minute moment of silence at the end-point of the rally. Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said the protest – the legal sector’s fifth demonstration since the 1997 Handover – was the largest one yet. He said he estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 lawyers participated.
“The legal sector is united to tell the government that the passing of the extradition bill will bring the strongest damage to the rule of law of Hong Kong,” he said. “We want to tell [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam and [Secretary for Security] John Lee clearly – retract this extradition bill now.”
The government proposed legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China and Taiwan.
Speaking days ahead of a mass public rally planned for Sunday, senior counsel Lawrence Lok – also a member of the Hong Kong Bar Association’s governing council – said that the government failed to listen to the legal sector’s opinions.
“They said we misunderstood the issue – how did we misunderstand? Our colleagues spent a lot of time looking into the bill – we talked reason, how did we misunderstand?” he said. “I am very disappointed by this attitude.”
“It was a monologue, the government talking to themselves, without us taking part.”
The government’s plan has been under fire for months. It would enable the city’s leader and local courts to handle rendition requests without legislative oversight, prompting lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses to raise concerns over the risk of residents being tried in the mainland.
‘Is it worth the damage’?
Chris Ng, convenor of the Progressive Lawyers Group, told HKFP that he saw people from the legal sector joining the march who rarely otherwise spoke out.
“It shows that the legal sector is united against extradition bill,” he said. “Even if the bill is passed, is it worth the damage to Hong Kong?”
Ian Wong, who began his legal career this year, said Beijing often interprets the law without any principles.
“Anyone with legal knowledge would know that the bill has many problems. If this is passed in a rush, the outcome is unimaginable,” he said.
Irina Chan, who entered legal practice three years ago, said the bill presented a fundamental change to the law.
“Not only the legal sector, many sectors have raised questions to the government – the government said we misunderstood, but it did not try to explain,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Law Society of Hong Kong said the government should not rush the legislation of the extradition bill and should conduct extensive consultation before taking it further.
The Hong Kong Bar Association also issued a new statement on Thursday saying that the additional safeguard provided by the government “is riddled with uncertainties.”
“[I]t offers scarcely any reliable assurances,” it said.
The last such legal sector protest occurred in November 2016, when the standing committee of the National People’s Congress issued an interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. It came as a local court handed down a ruling over the Legislative Council oath-taking controversy.
In a statement on Thursday night, Sophie Richardson – China Director of Human Rights Watch – said: “The proposed changes to the extradition laws will put anyone in Hong Kong doing work related to the mainland at risk… No one will be safe, including activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, and social workers.”
Organisers of a public protest against the looming extradition law on Sunday, say it is likely to attract over 100,000 people.