Hundreds of thousands of protesters dressed in white marched in the streets of Hong Kong Sunday in the biggest protest. Police estimated the number of marchers at 240,000; organisers, said a million people protested. Hong Kong, which at roughly 1,100 sq km is smaller in size than Delhi, is home to an estimated 7.4 million people.
The extradition Bill
The protesters were marching against proposed changes in the law that would allow suspects accused of crimes such as murder and rape to be extradited to mainland China to face trial.
Once the law is changed, Hong Kong will also hand over to China individuals accused of crimes in Taiwan and Macau. Taiwan has a tense relationship with China; Macau, like Hong Kong, is a Chinese special administrative region with significant autonomy.
The government has said that the proposed amendments would “plug loopholes” that allow the city to be used by criminals. It has assured that courts in Hong Kong would make the final decision on extradition, that only certain categories of suspects would be liable, and that individuals accused of political and religious offences would not be extradited.
The main worry, government assurances notwithstanding, is that China will use the changed law to target political opponents in Hong Kong. Critics point to China’s flawed justice system and say extradited suspects would likely face torture. Also, they say, the change in the law will deal another blow to Hong Kong’s already crumbling autonomy.
Hong Kong and China
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and is semi-autonomous under the “one country, two systems” principle. It has its own laws and courts, and allows its residents a range of civil liberties. Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement with Beijing. China has decried the alleged “politicisation” of the Hong Kong proposal, and the “interference” in China’s internal affairs.