An estimated number of 2 million people have taken the streets in Hong Kong in protest for the withdrawal of the extradition bill. Dressed in black and donning white ribbons, protesters marched in the streets for the second Sunday in a row despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s announcement of the suspension of the bill.
The proposed extradition bill would allow Hong Kong officials to extradite wanted criminal suspects in Hong Kong to stand trial in mainland China. The two governments currently do not share an extradition agreement seeing that when Hong Kong finalized its extradition accords in 1997 after being released from British rule, it refused to include China due to its “fundamentally different criminal justice system” and “concerns over the mainland’s track record on the protection of fundamental rights,” according to Vox.
Although Hong Kong is part of China, it has a different legal system, a concept known as “one country, two systems.” Pro-democracy figures said the bill, championed by the pro-Beijing government, would lead to the erosion of civil rights in Hong Kong, including freedom of speech and the rule of law. Throughout the controversy, Lam has maintained that the bill is necessary to ensure that Hong Kong does not become a sanctuary for fugitives running from justice in the mainland.
Since the suspension of the bill, Lam issued a statement apologizing to the people of Hong Kong for “deficiencies” in the government’s work. The decision to continue with the march on Sunday as neither the suspension nor the apology was enough. Protesters returned to the streets calling for the withdrawal of the bill and for Lam to resign. Many fear the proposal could be used to deport residents to mainland China for political or business offenses and that it marks the steady decline of freedoms and rights in Hong Kong which frowned upon by Beijing’s communist government.
The first anti-extradition march took place on June 9th, when according to CNN, organizers estimate more than 1 million people walked on the streets in a peaceful march against the legislation.
The decision to go ahead with the march also followed violent clashes between police and protesters on Wednesday. According to CNN, up to 5000 riot police fired 150 rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds throughout Wednesday’s clashes.
In contrast to Wednesday’s clashes, the BBC reports that Sunday’s protest was mainly peaceful with police officers reportedly holding back to allow the crowds of people to pass through the city slowly. The demonstration began early in the afternoon in Victoria Square, with many wearing blacks as well as holding white ribbons and flowers to mourn a protester who fell to his death on Saturday from a ledge from which he held an anti-extradition banner, according to CNN.
Pro-democracy Claudia Mo released a statement to CNN reporters after Lam’s news conference on Saturday that the protest would continue throughout the city until she steps down. “If she refuses to withdraw, to scrap the controversial bill altogether, it would mean that we wouldn’t retreat. She stays on. We stay on,” Mo said. “Carrie Lam has lost all credibility among Hong Kong people. She must step down.”
These sentiments were shared by the crowds that took the streets on Sunday. Among the groups of people donning black shirts and white ribbons, signs bearing the words “Carrie Lam Step Down” floated above the masses.
There is currently no timeline for discussions around the bill to resume, Lam said, and she indicated it would likely not pass this year as Hong Kong’s legislative council is due to go on summer recess July 20th before beginning again in October.
Nevertheless, as per the “one country, two systems” principle, there is no room for the extradition bill in Hong Kong. The bill must be abandoned to protect the future of democracy by ensuring that Hong Kong maintains its judicial independence, legislature, and economic autonomy. As for Mrs. Lam’s future, despite the backing of China’s foreign ministry, she faces turbulent times as the public continue to march for her resignation.