Hong Kong anti-extradition protest attracts over a million: All you need to know about the proposed amendment

Hong Kong: On 9 June, over a million people participated in a protest against the amendments proposed to extradition laws in Hong Kong. The protests, which were organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of pro-democracy groups, are touted to be the biggest in the history of Hong Kong. They have triggered a political crisis in Hong Kong with protestors demanding the resignation of  Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong.

What does the new amendment propose?

The Hong Kong Free Press first reported in February 2019 that the government proposed amending the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO) and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance (MLAO) to enable a “one-off case-based approach” for handling extradition requests. This would allow jurisdictions like Taiwan, China and Macau, which have no extradition agreements with Hong Kong, to extradite crime accused on a case-by-case basis. Currently, Hong Kong has mutual extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Officials of the Security Bureau claim that this would close a legal loophole in the existing system for handling one-off extradition requests. In the current system, the requests are scrutinised by the Legislative Council.

Since the Council's proceedings are public, fugitives are alerted and may try to flee. The Bureau has suggested that the chief executive should have the authority to issue a certificate after receiving an extradition request. On the basis of these certificates, local courts will decide whether to issue provisional arrest warrants behind closed doors.

“On timeliness and confidentiality, this will better suit the actual operational needs,” the Hong Kong Free Press quoted the Bureau as saying. The Bureau added that human rights safeguards will remain in place.

Why has the change been proposed?

The amendment comes on the heels of a murder case involving a couple from Hong Kong who were on a trip to Taiwan. A 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while they were holidaying in Taiwan together in February last year. The man fled Taiwan and returned to Hong Kong. Hong Kong officials have said that they cannot comply with Taiwan's request to extradite the man, citing the lack of an extradition agreement with Taiwan.

Why are the protesters against it?

The opposition to the bill centres around the administrative relationship between Hong Kong and China. Opponents of the bill, including lawyers, human rights activists, businessmen and students, question the fairness and transparency of the Chinese legal system.

They worry about Chinese security forces fabricating charges to target political and religious dissidents. They allege that the proposed changes would go against the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle currently in place and erode Hong Kong's autonomy. Several countries such as the US, Canada and  Britain have voiced similar concerns, especially regarding the security of foreign nationals residing in Hong Kong.

Since its return to China in 1997, Hong Kong, a former British colony, has retained its own laws under the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle. The residents of the city enjoy more civil liberties than their Chinese counterparts.

Are there no safeguards in place?

Hong Kong officials have defended the plans, even as they raised the threshold of extraditable offences to crimes carrying penalties of seven years or more. They say that adequate safeguards, such as protection from independent local judges before the order from the chief executive, are in place. A range of offences, including financial crimes, political, religious offences as well as those related to misuse of computers have been excluded.

Following the protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam termed the current bill as "necessary and sensible" and refused to withdraw it or carry out any additional changes, reported Al Jazeera.

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Updated Date: Jun 10, 2019 16:14:51 IST