The Hindu Explains: Hong Kong protests, DLS method and Assam Foreigners Tribunals

What are the protests in Hong Kong all about?

Why has a draft extradition bill sparked huge demonstrations? And are relations with China deteriorating?

The story so far: An extradition bill Hong Kong authorities had proposed triggered one of the largest protests in the city’s history, escalating tensions between its pro-Beijing ruling elite and a defiant civil society. On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of people assembled at the city’s legislative council where lawmakers were supposed to debate the bill, leading to violent clashes between protesters and security personnel. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, which threw bricks and other objects in return. Following the unrest, lawmakers delayed the discussion, finally suspending the bill indefinitely on Saturday.

What is the extradition bill?

Hong Kong has seen several protests since it was handed over to China by the British colonialists in 1997. In 2003, then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s attempt to pass stringent security legislation, which Beijing had pushed for, was successfully resisted by tens of thousands of protesters. In 2014, the city saw weeks-long protests against proposed changes in the electoral system, which came to be known as the Umbrella Movement. In the latest protest, the trigger has been the extradition bill which, if passed, would have allowed the city government to extradite any suspect to places with which Hong Kong does not have extradition accords. When Hong Kong’s extradition agreements were finalised, mainland China and Taiwan were left out because those regions had fundamentally different criminal justice systems from that of the city. This “loophole”, according to the Hong Kong government, allows suspected criminals to avoid trial elsewhere by taking refuge in the city. Hong Kong’s current leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the bill would close the loophole so that suspects wanted elsewhere, including in mainland China, could be extradited. To argue that the law is urgently required, she cited the case of a Hong Kong man who is facing charges in Taiwan for murdering his girlfriend. The extradition plan applies to 37 crimes, including murder, sexual offences, abduction, drug peddling and corruption, with retroactive effect. The Chief Executive can decide on extradition requests on a case-by-case basis which would then be reviewed by the city’s courts.

Why is there opposition to the bill?

Civil society groups and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists say the bill will allow mainland China to deepen its influence in Hong Kong. The relationship between China and Hong Kong is anything but smooth. When Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 by Britain, both sides agreed that the city would remain a semi autonomous region under the Basic Law, its mini-Constitution, for 50 years. The Basic Law provides people in Hong Kong more political freedoms than their counterparts in mainland China. There is a relatively free press, an unregulated Internet and a less-controlled judiciary in Hong Kong. Also, mainland authorities are not allowed to operate directly in Hong Kong. But Beijing has increasingly tried to exert its influence on the city in recent years, raising concerns of the city’s pro-democracy groups which are largely Beijing-sceptics. There have been instances of China critics being abducted from Hong Kong with the city government doing nothing to resist such actions. Furthermore, the Hong Kong government itself has shown growing authoritarian tendencies in recent years. There have been instances of lawmakers being disqualified, activists banned from running for office, a political party prohibited and a foreign journalist expelled. So civil society groups are fighting two odds — growing instances of Beijing’s meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and rising authoritarian traits of the city’s rulers. They say the bill is another blow against the rights those in Hong Kong currently enjoy, noting that it would empower the city government to send critics of Beijing to the mainland where the criminal justice system is tightly controlled by the establishment. It will practically break the existing legal barriers between Hong Kong and mainland China that are guaranteed under the “One Country Two Systems” model, say the protesters.

What is next?

Ms. Lam had initially said she would not back off despite the protests. Evidently, she had the backing of Beijing as well. Two members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China had publicly endorsed the bill, unlike in the past when Communist Party officials restrained themselves from commenting on the city’s internal matters. But the protests, in which at least a million people, or one in seven residents of the city, participated, seem to have shaken the local government. After Wednesday’s protests, there were calls for Ms. Lam to step down with critics slamming her for the heavy force used against the protesters. The protesters even called for a fresh sit-in on Sunday if the government did not withdraw the bill. Amid rising pressure, Ms. Lam said on Saturday that she was suspending the Bill indefinitely, handing a major victory to the protesters. While the government’s U-turn could calm tensions for now, the crisis has exposed, once again, the growing distrust between the city’s pro-Beijing authorities and its civil society.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 12:05:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/what-are-the-protests-in-hong-kong-all-about/article27950931.ece

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