Hong Kong’s government has suspended a controversial extradition law bill until further notice after months of protest and criticism.
At a 3pm press conference, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said pro-Beijing lawmakers had urged the government to delay the bill, and said Taiwan had made it clear it would not receive the murder suspect whose case triggered the proposal.
“The urgency of passing this bill within this term has maybe disappeared,” she said.
She said the government will continue to consult the public, before deciding future plans: “We should pause and think instead of assuming the second reading of the bill in the Legislative Council as scheduled.”
Lam added that the government is adopting an open mind to “heed comprehensively” the views of different sectors of society.
No deadline for the bill has been announced, though Lam said she has “deep sorrow and regret” that the recent events have stirred up “substantial controversies.”
A protest planned for Sunday will proceed as planned.
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In February, Hong Kong proposed legal amendments to allow it to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China. Lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland, which lacks human rights protections. More than one million people marched last Sunday against the bill, according to organisers. On Wednesday, demonstrators occupied areas outside the legislature until police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets after frontline demonstrators threw objects.
The government’s plans were spurred by the case of Poon Hiu-wing, a pregnant 20-year-old Hong Kong woman who was killed during a trip to Taiwan last February. Her boyfriend Chan Tong-kai is now serving jail time for unrelated charges.
Pro-Beijing paper Sing Tao Daily reported that Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng met Lam in Shenzhen on Friday evening. Lam then had a cabinet meeting with her top officials at 10:30pm, lasting until midnight.
When Lam was asked on Saturday if the postponement would satisfy the public, she said she still believed her initial intention for the law amendment was correct, given that the pro-establishment camp supported her: “But we should be open to listening to the public.”
She insisted that there was a loophole in Hong Kong’s criminal system and would not retract the bill. Asked if she will resign, she said the social atmosphere was calmer in the last two years.
“We regret that this incident caused a split in society,” she said.
Concerning the police use of force against protesters, and their decision to deem the unrest a riot, Lam said she supported for force: “I believe they were restrained and responsible.”
Lam said the bill was initiated by the Hong Kong government, and the central government understood, trusted and supported her. She said she contacted Beijing when the local government made its second concession that extradition requests from the mainland could only be made by a top Chinese court.
When challenged about the perception that Hong Kong’s chief executive is the control of the central government, Lam pushed back: “If that is a view then that is a view that does not sit well with the Basic Law.”
She added she had a responsibility to both Beijing and the people of Hong Kong: “If your boss who pays your salary asks you to do something unlawful, you don’t do it,” she said.
Lam said that one of the reasons her government suspended the bill was because of concerns about further clashes: “If there was another confrontation it could be much more serious,” she said, adding that Beijng had been informed of the decision.
On Friday, Michael Tien became the first pro-Beijing legislator to call publicly for a delay of the extradition bill. Executive Council members including Ronny Tong and Lam Ching-choi also said the government should consider delaying the bill.
Organisers of Sunday’s anti-extradition law protest say they will press on with their plan as the purposes of the march remain the same. The Civil Human Rights Front said they will condemn the police use of force and demand the characterisation of Wednesday’s protest as a “riot” be retracted: “We also demand that the government should release all arrested in the protesters and do not prosecute them.”
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