HONG KONG (China)—Hong Kong witnessed its largest street protest in at least 15 years on Sunday as crowds massed against plans to allow extraditions to China, a proposal that has sparked a major backlash against the city’s pro-Beijing leadership.
At least 150,000 people marched in blazing summer heat through the cramped streets of the financial hub’s main island in a noisy, colourful demonstration calling on the government to scrap its planned extradition law.
The city’s pro-Beijing leaders are pushing a bill through the legislature that would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which it does not already have a treaty — including mainland China for the first time. Police told AFP at least 153,000 had started the march, but they had yet to calculate the crowd’s peak figure with new people still joining hours after it began. Historically the police give much lower figures than organisers, but even this preliminary estimate would make it the largest street protest since 2003. Dense crowds chanting “Scrap the evil law!” and “Oppose China extradition!” stretched for miles.
Coffee shop owner Marco Ng said he was closing his store to join the march.
“Our city matters more than our business,” the 26-year-old told AFP. “If we don’t speak out, then there’s no way that the government will listen to our concerns.”
The last time the city saw a protest crowd of similar size was in 2003 when a massive demonstration forced the government to shelve a deeply unpopular national security law. Groundswell of opposition The extradition plans have sparked an opposition that unites a similarly wide demographic. In recent weeks lawyers have held sombre marches dressed in black, anonymous senior judges have given critical media interviews and the city’s two main legal groups — the Law Society and the Bar Association —have urged a rethink.
Business figures are also rattled with multiple chambers of commerce and commercial groups expressing alarm, adding to criticism from the United States, Canada, former colonial power Britain and many European governments. Hong Kong’s leaders, who are not popularly elected, say the law is needed to plug loopholes and stop the city being a bolthole for mainland fugitives.
They say dissidents and critics will not be extradited and have urged the bill’s quick passage to extradite a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for murdering his girlfriend. But critics fear the law would entangle people in China’s opaque and politicised court system and say the government is using the Taiwan case as a Trojan Horse.
The proposed law has been fast-tracked through the city’s government-dominated legislature and on Wednesday it will receive its second reading, with plans to have the law on the statute books by late July. Previous sessions in parliament have descended into chaos with rival lawmakers scuffling.—AFP