Hong Kong officially withdraws controversial extradition bill from legislature

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Secretary for Security John Lee. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Hong Kong’s government has officially withdrawn the controversial extradition bill which sparked over 20 weeks of protest and civil unrest. The move came a week late due to protests at the Legislative Council during the Chief Executive’s policy address.

The second reading for the bill resumed on Wednesday afternoon. Secretary for Security John Lee then announced the bill was withdrawn.

In response, Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui asked if he will resign. Lee said he had nothing to add.

“John Lee! Step down! Teresa Cheng! Step down!” democrats chanted.

LegCo President Andrew Leung ordered Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki to leave. Kwok refused, prompting Leung to suspend the meeting.

20 weeks of unrest

The proposed legal amendment, which would have allowed fugitive transfers to mainland China, led to a large-scale protest march on June 9 which – according to the organiser – was attended by one million people.

The government refused to axe the bill, citing the need to close a legal loophole. Protesters and police then clashed outside the legislature on June 12, resulting in the first use of tear gas by police since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Demonstrations have continued every weekend since.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the suspension of the bill on June 15, though the move failed to allay public anger. Two million people marched in protest the next day, according to organiser estimates.

On July 9, Lam declared the bill “dead” but stopped short of announcing a full withdrawal.

Responding to one of the core demands made by protesters, Lam finally said on September 4 that the bill would be formally withdrawn at the legislature.

Kwok Ka-ki told reporters on Wednesday that Lee should explain why the government refused to withdraw the bill until now, adding that lawmakers should seek responsibility from the government: “If even Lee can escape our questions today, [Justice Secretary] Teresa Cheng and Carrie Lam must bear responsibility and step down,” he said.

Despite the scrapping of the bill, protesters’ demands have evolved into calls for an independent commission of inquiry into police’s handling of the unrest, retraction of the use of the word “riots” to characterise the protests, amnesty for all arrested protesters, as well as universal suffrage. Many have also called for disbanding of the police force.

By Kris Cheng

Source: Hong Kong Free Press

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