Hong Kong, June 10 (IANS) Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday reaffirmed her backing for a new bill allowing extradition to mainland China that has prompted massive protests, although she said the region’s government would ensure the protection of suspects’ human rights.
Lam said in a press conference that the proposed law would include legally-binding safeguards to prevent the jurisdictions asking for extradition from violating the rights of defendants, but she refused to backpedal her government’s push for the controversial bill, Efe news reported.
While Lam acknowledged that “a very large number of people” had taken to the streets on Sunday to protest the measure – organisers estimated that over one million demonstrators took part, though the police gave a count of 240,000 protesters – she said there were many “opposite views” supporting the new legislation.
However, the protests erupted out of fears that activists and dissidents who live in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China for trial, where they could face political or religious persecution.
“The bill wasn’t initiated by Beijing,” Lam said, adding that the proposal was instead born out of her own government’s “clear conscience and commitment to Hong Kong”.
She also vowed that the regional government would provide regular reports of its implementation to the legislative council, as quoted by state broadcaster RTHK.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government claimed the protests were spurred by “foreign intervention” while supporting the former British colony’s government.
“I would like to stress that the central government will continue to firmly support the Special Administrative Region’s government in the amendment of the two ordinances and we firmly oppose external intervention in Hong Kong’s legislation,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang in a press conference on Monday.
“Since the return of Hong Kong (to China by the UK in 1997), people’s rights and freedoms in Hong Kong are fully protected and guaranteed. This is unquestionable,” Geng added.
The bill, which was first proposed in February, will undergo a second reading in the legislature on Wednesday. The final vote on it is expected in July.
It would allow the Hong Kong executive and courts to process extradition requests of countries with which the it does not have a formal transfer agreement, including mainland China, Taiwan and Macao, without direct legislative supervision.
In theory, local courts would handle cases individually and could use veto powers to block extraditions.
The government maintains that the law, known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, is necessary to cover a legal vacuum.
The bill has faced staunch opposition from journalists, foreign politicians, non-governmental organizations and companies.