Thirty-two former Hong Kong government officials and politicians made another urgent appeal to Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday to withdraw the suspended extradition bill, two days after protesters laid siege to police headquarters.

The group also urged Lam and police chief Stephen Lo to retract the use of the term “riot” to describe clashes that broke out on June 12 – a designation that could land participants in prison for up to 10 years under a colonial-era law. They also called for an independent enquiry to be established into alleged police brutality.

Anti-extradition protest Friday June 21
Photo: Dan Garrett.

“We are a group of people who love and have served Hong Kong for many years,” their statement read. “Since our urgent appeal on 14 June, we have been watching recent developments in Hong Kong with even greater concern and apprehension. That is why we jointly write again, sincerely urging you to meet the following requests as soon as possible, so our society can return to normal.”

The joint statement comes after 27 former government officials and politicians made a similar appeal last Friday to withdraw the bill, urging pro-establishment legislators – who hold the majority in the Legislative Council – to vote against it, while calling on members of the governing team to tell Lam to yield to public opinion and resign if their advice is ignored.

”In Full: Joint letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam – CLICK TO VIEW“

23 June 2019. Urgent Appeal.

We are a group of people who love and have served Hong Kong for many years. Since our urgent appeal on 14 June, we have been watching recent developments in Hong Kong with even greater concern and apprehension. That is why we jointly write again, sincerely urging you to meet the following requests as soon as possible, so our society can return to normal.

  1. Withdraw the Bill immediately

The government has refused to withdraw the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislative (Amendment) Bill 2019. [The suspension] is not the same as withdrawal. It only means cancelling the notice to resume the second reading of the bill. Withdrawal means cancelling the bill altogether, so if the government wishes to retable, it has to start the process all over again as a completely new bill. The government says it has no plan to continue and the bill will automatically lapse at the end of this legislative term in July 2020. But during this period, the government’s refusal to withdraw the bill is fueling suspicion and instability. Society is unable to resume normality. At this moment, with the complete loss of trust, your initial intent is no longer relevant; further, there have been precedents where unpopular bills were withdrawn.

  1. Set up an independent enquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance

Over a million citizens of Hong Kong protested the Government’s mishandling of the Amendment Bill at every level, on two consecutive Sundays in June. This was unprecedented in Hong Kong’s history. There are countless allegations that the Police used excessive force on 12 June, while there are also allegations that some protesters were throwing bricks at the Police. Surely, the truth deserves to be investigated openly and fairly, so that justice can be served, wounds can heal and mistrust can be removed. If truth remains suppressed then we fear that such conflicts will continue, and may lead regrettably to more bloodshed and irreparable damage.

We therefore urge that an independent commission of inquiry be established, under the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance and headed by one or more persons with public credibility, with a broad remit to investigate into all aspects of the government’s handling of the amendment bill including, but not restricted to, the circumstances of the police-citizen conflict that it gave rise to.

3. Immediately retract the riot label used by you and the Police Commissioner

According to the Police, they arrested 32 people on 12 June, eight have their loitering charges dropped, of the remaining 24, five have been charged with rioting.

One of the loudest chants on 16 June was “there is no riot, only tyranny.” According to the Public Order Ordinance, a person is guilty of riot if he takes part in an unlawful assembly as defined in law. If there was no riot on 12 June, there is no basis to charge anyone with rioting. Conversely, if there was a riot, all those assembled are riotously assembled and are guilty of the offence of [rioting].

There is reason to believe that many who marched and many who surrounded the Police Headquarters [on Friday] were dissatisfied with the label of “riot” that you and the Police Commissioner have put on the events of 12 June. Hong Kong people demonstrated peacefully. Many leaders and media around the world have saluted the high calibre and civic spirit of the Hong Kong protesters. It is ironic that our own government should denigrate our people as “rioters”. The Chief Executive and the Police Commissioner should immediately remove and withdraw this unreasonable “riot” label.

The letter was signed by democrats such as Martin Lee, Cyd Ho and Audrey Eu, ex-chief secretary Anson Chan, as well as barrister Margaret Ng and writer Joseph Lian.

Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of protests over legal amendments proposed in February, which would enable the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China. Critics from across sectors have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland, which lacks human rights protections. The bill was suspended last Saturday due in part to the recent unrest.

june 21 extradition protest isaac yee
Protesters besiege police headquarters. Photo: Isaac Yee.

Thousands blocked entrances to the police headquarters in Wan Chai on Friday calling for accountability over alleged misconduct relating to clashes that broke out last week, when police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against crowds advancing forwards and throwing objects. The protest followed an anti-extradition bill march last Sunday, which organisers said was attended by two million people.

Full list of signatories – CLICK TO VIEW

Elizabeth Bosher

David Chu

Audrey Eu

Cyd Ho

Ambrose Ho

Ho Chun-yan Albert

Lee Wing-tat

Martin Lee

Li Wah-ming

Allen Lee

Margaret Ng

Lam Kui-shing Conrad

Michael Sze

Anson Chan

Chan Ka-lok Kenneth

Michael Yin

Alan Leong

Cheung Man Kwong

Sin Chung Kai

Andrew Wong

Cheung Kwok Che

Yeung Sum

Andrew Cheng

Emily Lau

Au Yiu-kai

Peter Lai

Alice Siu

Cheung Yuk-tong

Fang Meng-sang

Lo Chi-kin

Joseph Lian

Lee Cheuk-yan

‘Let the truth speak’

Peter Lai, a signatory and former Secretary for Security from 1995 to 1998, said the government should rebuild public trust and heal divisions in society after recent events.

YouTube video

“The key priority for Hong Kong now is to heal the deep divides in the community opened up by recent events,” he said. “As the history of other communities with entrenched conflicts show, truth and reconciliation must go together. Only with truth, impartially and thoroughly revealed by a respected body of public trust, can wounds be healed and the task of rebuilding trust begins. Let the truth speak.”

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Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.