Chants of “no China extradition, no evil law” echoed throughout the streets of Hong Kong on June 9, when more than 1 million people marched through the city to press the local government to scrap proposed changes that would allow mainland China to seek the extradition of suspects wanted by the Chinese regime.
Critics of the bill are concerned that the proposals could allow the ruling Chinese Communist Party to punish dissidents.
The massive turnout recalled protests in 2003, when more than a half-million Hongkongers marched against Article 23, a controversial anti-subversion measure that critics argued would target free speech and groups suppressed by Beijing. The bill was eventually scrapped.
Local police gave far lower turnout estimates for both protests. In 2003, police estimated 350,000 people attended the demonstration. On June 9, it gave an estimate of a mere 240,000—less than a quarter of the number reported by Civil Human Rights Front, the march organizer.
The Hong Kong government first proposed amendments to the city’s extradition law in February, which would simplify the current case-by-case extraditions of criminal suspects via existing extradition treaties with 20 countries, including the United States. Instead, under the changes, the city’s top leader would have the authority to sign off on extradition requests, including from mainland China, without approval from the legislature, called the Legislative Council.
In recent months, a broad opposition movement, including lawyers, business executives, students, and ordinary citizens, has organized parades, petitions, and other forms of protest, arguing that given the Chinese regime’s disregard for rule of law, the changes could allow Beijing to charge and extradite with impunity.
Sunday’s march was originally set to begin at 3 p.m. local time in Victoria Park. But the march began 30 minutes earlier at the demand of local police, due to the large number of protesters.
The Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times reported that crowd-control measures were implemented at several subway stations.
At around 4 p.m., the first group of protesters arrived at the march’s destination, the Legislative Council building in the Admiralty neighborhood. At about 9 p.m., the last segment of the march still had yet to arrive at the destination, with more people joining the protest throughout the evening.
Wary of Beijing
Since the bill was proposed, Western governments have expressed their concern for Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission, in a reportreleased May 7, stated, “The extradition bill could pose significant risks to U.S. national security and economic interests in the territory,” adding that Beijing could pressure the Hong Kong government into extraditing U.S. expats “under false pretenses.”
Hongkongers expressed similar worries while speaking with the Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times.
Ching Cheong, a veteran Hong Kong journalist, said the real purpose of the law was for Beijing to target people whom it considered to be a threat to its rule, under the pretense of boosting China’s national security.
“My understanding of national security is whether there would be a foreign invasion,” Ching said. “But Beijing considers a threat to its rule as an issue of national security.”
Members from the Hong Kong Journalists Association and media commentators decided to participate in the march after missing out on a previous protest on April 28, when 130,000 took to the streets, according to Ching.
“What we are seeing now is that lies told by the [Hong Kong] government are coming in waves,” Ching said. “John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong’s secretary for security, even said that the rule of law [in China] was ranked high globally. He was simply lying.”
On June 5, Lee sought to dismiss concerns about China’s judicial system by saying its ranking in a World Economic Forum survey was relatively good, in the top third of 140 countries. However, he failed to mention that when it came to human rights, China placed at 121 among 126 countries, according to the same survey.
Foreign expats also attended the June 9 march. Brian Kern, who has lived in Hong Kong for the past 11 years, came with his two daughters.
“Like everyone else here today, I think it is very important for all Hong Kong people to stand up for Hong Kong against the [Chinese] Communist Party, and against its puppet here, the Hong Kong government,” he said.
Kern said recent conversations he had with people were mostly about whether he would continue to stay in Hong Kong, or whether local Hongkongers should try to leave the city.
“But the problem is, if everybody leaves, who is here to defend Hong Kong? I think it is a very tricky situation for people. And I think that’s what the [Chinese] Communist Party wants. It wants people like me to leave. And it just wants to fill Hong Kong with all these people coming from China,” Kern said.
Defending Hong Kong
Many local university students also took part in the march. Ms. Chow, who is currently studying at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told the Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times that at least 100 students from the university participated in the march.
“The goal for every one of us is to safeguard the home of Hong Kong people,” Chow said. “People will never accept the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which violates the ‘one country, two systems.’”
The “one country, two systems” model was proposed by Beijing after the city’s sovereignty was handed over from the United Kingdom to China in 1997. On the surface, it was aimed at preserving Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms while under mainland Chinese rule. However, the city has seen the encroaching influence of Beijing impact local politics, education, and freedom of the press in recent years.
Chow said that if the amendments to the extradition laws were passed, it would create “terror” in Hong Kong.
“Nobody would then dare to challenge the central authorities [in Beijing],” Chow said. “It would violate the human rights that everyone is born with, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”
Anson Chan, former chief secretary for both the British colonial government and the Hong Kong government after the handover, was among the protesters who took part in the march. That position is the most senior among department secretaries.
Chan said that the proposals would not only affect basic rights and freedom, but “also affect business confidence in Hong Kong, especially how it would be a blow to Hong Kong’s image as a top financial center.” In recent weeks, some in the business sector have expressed concern that the bill would impact investors’ perceptions of Hong Kong’s economic independence from China.
Chan called on Carrie Lam, the city’s top leader, to listen to the voice of the Hong Kong people, the international community, and other governments around the world.
“If [Lam] really treasures Hong Kong, and knows the city’s unique strength, she would not have taken the path that she is on right now,” Chan said.
Scores of protesters, including lawmakers in the Legislative Council, held placards and shouted slogans calling on Lam to resign.
Simultaneously, about 1,000 Australian Chinese gathered in Sydney for a protest urging the Australian government to condemn the Hong Kong bill.
“Ordinary people like me, I think, will live in perpetual fear of breaking some law in China, and as we’re passing through Hong Kong we’ll be arrested and extradited,” Ida Lee, an accountant, told Reuters.
Epoch Times reporters Sarah Liang, Lin Yi, and Wang Wenjun in Hong Kong contributed to the report.