The massive April 28 march by Hong Kong’s citizens against the extradition amendment bill being debated in the Legislative Council was eerily reminiscent of the 2003 streaming out of citizens from everywhere in which they opposed a public security bill that sought to limit rights and protections the territory took for granted.
Many in the Sunday march, angered by what they saw as betrayal of Hong Kong’s core values by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, called on her to resign. That is because, for the city’s residents, their last remaining comfort blanket is faith in the protection of the law, a legal system in which the accused remains innocent until proven guilty.
It is the exact reverse across the border. When Hong Kong citizens see even that final protection under threat, they truly panic. The demonstration was a collective fear response. Fear is the primary grip the CCP exercises over every citizen on the mainland and beyond.
The organizer, Civil Human Rights Front, claimed 130,000 marchers, while the police estimated 22,800 at its peak. The TV news images showed a wide, dense column snaking into Wan Chai all the way back from Causeway Bay. Performance artist Kacey Wong, in the uniform of a mainland warden with sunglasses and truncheon, lugged a red prison cell on wheels, with a caged man wearing the trademark yellow Umbrella Revolution T-shirt. The label simply said: “From HK to CN.”
Coming after public nuisance charges imposed jail sentences on nine Umbrella Movement activists last week, the Liaison Office, the Communist Party of China’s ghost-whisperers in Hong Kong can be forgiven for believing the unruly citizens were duly cowed, defeated, and had given up at last on retaining the freedoms and universal suffrage they were promised under the Basic Law. They haven’t.
This revival of the defiant Hong Kong spirit must irk the CCP for refusing to be fully dead yet.
Why the amendments?
The Hong Kong government had a problem. A teenager confessed to murdering his pregnant girlfriend on a trip to Taiwan in February 2018. The city cannot try him for a murder committed outside its jurisdiction. It cannot rendition him to Taipei either, as it lacks an extradition treaty. This loophole is what the Hong Kong government says it wants to plug.
But then the scheme morphed beyond sending Chan Tong-kai to face trial in Taiwan to a looming shadow of potential mainland rendition for Hong Kong residents. That frightened everyone, despite protestations of limited, ‘case-by-case’ consideration and other exceptions, conceded hastily by the administration.
The mainland authorities were concerned about the unintended de facto recognition of Taiwan as an independent state, if Hong Kong formalizes an extradition treaty with it. So the extradition amendment bill has been reworked to encompass all the places under Chinese sovereignty where Hong Kong does not have extradition arrangements: mainland China itself, Macau & Taiwan (yet to be reunified).
The abduction of five booksellers in 2015 spooked the city, historically distrustful of mainland communist methods. Two were kidnapped on the mainland. One in Thailand. Another two claimed to have gone voluntarily to assist investigations. The impunity with which China’s Security Bureau enforcers entered and left Hong Kong was chilling. The Hong Kong government remains clueless. The mainland authorities don’t explain their extra-legal activity in the Hong Kong SAR, so what?
Lam Wing-kee was arrested at the Shenzen border end 2015 and held for eight months. He sold books of gossip on mainland leaders. Under detention, he signed away his rights to inform his family or have legal representation. He was allowed to return to Hong Kong “on bail” to “attend to personal matters.” On the day he was supposed to return to China, 16 June 2016, Lam held a press conference with legislator Albert Ho in attendance to declare his abduction, forced confession and orders to find and surrender the hard disk with the names of all the people who bought books at his store.
Now with the legislature debating a bill to allow extradition to the mainland, Lam said he cannot hang out in Hong Kong anymore. He boarded a flight to Taiwan last week, where he would be out of reach of mainland law and lawlessness, but only until reunification.
Hong Kong people are familiar enough with conditions on the mainland: the disappearance of dissidents, the denial of access to family and lawyers, the forced confessions, and other horrors no civilized society will tolerate. Families are ostracized and children have to also pay the price along with those the party punishes. That is an old imperial tradition the party has adopted to terrorize citizens. Hong Kong residents do not want China’s abuse of people the CCP dislikes to be normalized.
The two legal systems are incompatible and irreconcilable. The party is all supreme on the mainland. In classic Leninist fashion, it declares itself the sole ruler. It will not subject itself to open election by the people it claims to represent. It does not brook opposition, or criticism from anyone outside itself. Even within, it can cast out those who hold a mirror to it -- like Deng Xiaoping was, thrice. It decides guilt and punishment. Showcase trials are staged with victims confessing to scripted crimes.
Once formalized into a legal routine, Hong Kong people fear the rendition will creep from criminals to political activity, freedom of expression, and all other individual and social rights which Hong Kong has long enjoyed. Criticizing the party on the mainland, invites retribution. Even collective-breathing Falun Gong practitioners are mercilessly treated because they organized themselves outside party control and approval.
What about Chan?
The teenager who triggered this legal crisis was charged with money laundering. The prosecution tried to claim murder as the predicate offence to the theft to raise the gravity of his crime. Judge Anthea Pang ruled that out. Chan has already been in custody for 13 months. He was sentenced yesterday to 29 months in prison, which makes it likely he will still be in jail when the extradition amendments pass.
The Hong Kong government cited Chan’s case as the urgency to rush the flawed and dangerous extradition amendments, which would give the CCP an opening to finger Hong Kong residents for trial on the mainland. Hong Kong residents fear that more than anything else, knowing how opaque the system is. Assurances of noble intent are meaningless. People took to the streets to protest, as the legislature is stuffed with a majority of CCP proxies, who rubber stamp ‘national security’-type legislation as instructed, while their chief executive is powerless to protect Hong Kong society.