On 10 June 2019, hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong rallied against a bill which critics fear allows China to target political opponents in the region and more than 12 people have already been arrested. The controversial extradition bill would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Organisers estimate that one million people took part in Sunday’s march – a figure that accounts for almost one in seven of the city’s 7.48 million-strong population, although police put the figure at 240,000 at its peak. If the organisers’ estimate is confirmed as correct, it would be the largest demonstration in Hong Kong since the territory was handed over to China by the British in 1997.
“This is the end game for Hong Kong, it is a matter of life or death. That’s why I come,” Rocky Chang, a 59-year-old professor taking part in the protests, told Reuters news agency.
Sunday’s protest comes days after the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, a pivotal moment that dashed hopes China would democratise before it took control of Hong Kong in 1997. Hong Kong has commemorated the massacre with a candlelit vigil ever since, the only place on Chinese soil where mass remembrances are held.
After the protests tapered off, violence broke out between protesters and police. At least three officers and a journalist were injured. Protesters, some wearing surgical masks, tried to break into the Legislative Council complex, throwing crowd control barriers around. The police in riot gear responded by beating some of the protesters using batons and unleashed pepper spray in attempts to deter them.
At least 358 protesters – most of them younger than 25 years old – could be arrested for their roles in violent clashes with security officers after Sunday’s protest march, police officials said in a statement on 10 June. Officers arrested 12 of the protesters for unlawful assembly. Another 358 demonstrators were found weapons and other items including box cutters and razors but were released after police searched them and recorded their personal information.
Another rally will be held on Wednesday, when the second reading of the bill will be debated by legislators. Martin Lee, a leading barrister and key figure of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, told the Guardian he believed there would be more protests if the government did not adequately respond to Sunday’s enormous public showing.
Lee said the government was “saying no to democracy and suppressing human rights and the rule of law”.
Opposition against the law is widespread across Hong Kong, with groups from all sections of society – ranging from lawyers to schools to house wives – having voiced their criticism or started petitions against the changes. The government has sought to reassure the public with some concessions, including promising to only hand over fugitives wanted for offences carrying maximum sentences of at least seven years.
Opponents of the law say it is being pushed by the Chinese government, and fear that Beijing will use it to extradite activists, dissidents and other political opponents who will end up in China’s opaque and politicised courts. The bill’s supporters say it plugs existing loopholes and will prevent the city from becoming a bolthole for fugitives. Hong Kong’s administration is determined to pass the bill before July, and has pegged its urgency on the case of a man wanted for the murder of his girlfriend in Taiwan.
Chinese state media is blaming the US for helping organise the protests in Hong Kong and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it continued to firmly support Hong Kong in passing the bill. The Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing “resolutely opposes” the interference of “external forces” in Hong Kong’s legislative affairs. In an editorial on 10 June, the state-owned China Daily defended the legislation and blamed opposition parties and “foreign forces” for creating chaos in Hong Kong.
Earlier this week, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, slammed the bill.
“People have known exactly why there shouldn’t be an extradition agreement with China for years,” Patten said in a video message Thursday. “The argument that it’s better to have an extradition treaty than to abduct people illegally from Hong Kong – are people really supposed to believe that?”
Last month, representatives from the European Union met with Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, and expressed concern over the bill. Members of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) have also spoken out against the bill, warning Lam it could “negatively impact the relationship between the United States and Hong Kong.”
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong warned last week there were “too many uncertainties in fundamental sections of the proposed legislation” for it to be passed in its current form.
“Hong Kong is not ready to see this bill passed and we do not see why it should be rushed through when the loophole it seeks to address has existed for 20 years,” the chamber said in a statement.