Hong Kong: Anti-extradition protesters block government HQ

June 12, 2019

Protesters have blocked government headquarters in Hong Kong as they fight a law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial.

Thousands of people, most of them young, forced a session at the Legislative Council to be postponed indefinitely.

The largely peaceful demonstration saw barriers overturned and many businesses closed in the area.

One 18-year-old protester, who only gave her name as Jacky, said: "We're young but we know that if we don't stand up for our rights, we might lose them."

Some demonstrators are reluctant to be identified by their full names and professions, with many wearing surgical masks over fears of retribution.

And they also appear mindful of Beijing's growing use of electronic surveillance such as facial recognition technology to build files on those it considers politically unreliable.

The protests comes three days after a rally that organisers said brought more than one million people onto the streets to condemn the proposed bill.

Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, has previously vowed to press ahead with the legislation, despite concerns it could leave residents exposed to human rights abuses.

Ms Lam has insisted that extradition cases would be decided by Hong Kong courts and that, without the changes, Hong Kong could become a haven for criminals evading justice.

The former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of autonomy and freedoms, including a separate legal system.

But many fear that Hong Kong residents sent to China could face ambiguous national security charges and will not be given a fair trial.

China - where courts are controlled by the Communist Party - has been accused of using torture, arbitrary detentions and forced confessions.

Several senior Hong Kong lawyers have also raised concerns, highlighting a lack of trust in the mainland courts.

Hong Kong Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes said: "The government is asking these people with decades of mistrust suddenly to trust the system and to accept assurances that the [Chinese] mainland will offer that they be honoured - and that's clearly not persuading the people."

But government officials insist there are adequate safeguards and that nobody will be extradited to face political or religious persecution or torture, or the death penalty.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a lawyer and member of Ms Lam's administration advisory committee, warned that Beijing's patience for Hong Kong was limited.

He said: "We need to gain the trust and confidence of Beijing so they can allow us the freedom of political reform.

"They don't want to see Hong Kong as a base of subversion. And I'm sorry - we're doing exactly that."

The legislature's president, Andrew Leung, has scheduled a vote on the extradition law for 20 June, although it is not clear if this date will also be postponed.

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