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Tens of thousands march to protest proposed extradition law

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Over 20,000 people took to the streets on April 27 to protest against the proposed amendment to Hong Kong’s extradition laws. Demonstrators took over four hours to walk the 2.2 kilometre route from Causeway Bay to the government complex in Admiralty. The organisers of the march, the Civil Human Rights Front, claimed over 130,000 people took part, where police estimates place the number at 22,800.

The amendment was proposed to LegCo in March with regards to the case of Chan Tong-kai, a Hongkonger arrested in Hong Kong for the theft of his girlfriend’s bank card, camera, phone and cash. He pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in Hong Kong. However, in Taiwan, he is accused of having murdered his pregnant girlfriend when they visited last year. Chan cannot be sent to Taiwan to stand trial as there is no legal understanding between Hong Kong and Taiwan with respect to extradition.

The government’s proposed amendment is to establish a case-by-case system whereby the SAR could administer individual extradition cases with countries that had no previously-established agreement, such as Taiwan. The government hopes the amendment will “plug existing loopholes” in the existing arrangement that have led to the current situation with Chan; the protest was an effort to convince the government to shelve the proposed changes due to the perceived risk of exposing Hongkongers to the mainland’s legal system. Because Hong Kong does not officially recognise Taiwain’s jurisdictional independence, the argument goes that extraditing Chan on the basis of such an agreement would by implication also create a legal precedence for the mainland, with which Hong Kong has no extradition agreement either.

The march came just four days after the sentencing of eight of the organisers of the Occupy Movement, and was attended by four of them; former student leader Tommy Cheung who was sentenced to 200 hours of community service; Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and Lee Wing-tat, who both received suspended sentences; and legislator Tanya Chan, whose sentence was postponed in light of a serious upcoming surgery. The other four are currently serving their sentences.

Another noteworthy appearance was performance artist Kacey Wong, who dressed up as a mainland prison guard and pushed a red cage through the streets in which a handcuffed figure stood carrying a sign saying: “evil Hong Kong government extraditing people to the mainland.” Many individuals were seen to be carrying yellow umbrellas.

It was the largest protest in the city since 2014; the Civil Human Rights Front organised a similar march last month and reported a turnout of 12,000, whereas the police estimated 5,200 took part.

Pro-democracy and human rights groups have criticized the proposed amendment, adding to growing fears that the protection of individual rights and free speech in Hong Kong are being eroded. In 2015, five booksellers who sold controversial books speculating on the politics and personal lives of some leaders in mainland China were taken into custody and disappeared. Only later did they reappear on state television in Mainland China offering confessions to the alleged crimes. One such bookseller, Lam Wing-kee, fled to Taiwan on Thursday last week due to his fears about the extradition amendment.

The government remains keen to have the amendment passed before the end of this legislative term in July, in an effort to extradite Chan before he is possibly released from Hong Kong police custody. It remains to be seen how the extradition issue will influence Hong Kong’s major annual protests on June 4 and July 1.

Photo Credit: ABC (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

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