HONG KONG (Reuters) – More than 100 people blocked a Hong Kong government building on Monday in protest against proposed legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China that they want scrapped.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, saying she had heard the protesters “loud and clear”, this month postponed the bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial in courts conrolled by the Communist Party.
The activists, mostly students, are demanding the bill be withdrawn, the government drop all charges against those arrested in recent protests and stop referring to the demonstrations as a riot, which could potentially lead to heavier jail terms.
“It’s inconvenient but I support it,” a South African businessman who declined to be identified said of the protest at the skyscraper inland revenue building near the heart of the financial center.
The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows it freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom to protest and a much-cherished independent judiciary.
The bill has seen millions of people, fearing a continual, drip-drip erosion of those freedoms, clog the streets in protest and plunge the city into political crisis, with many questioning the ability of Lam to govern.
The protesters plan another demonstration on Wednesday to raise awareness among world leaders attending the Group of 20
nations summit in the Japanese city of Osaka this week.
Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Jun said on Monday that China would not allow the G20 nations to discuss Hong Kong at the summit.
“What I can tell you for sure is that G20 will not discuss the Hong Kong issue. We will not allow G20 to discuss the Hong Kong issue,” Zhang said.
The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of the mass protests, is gearing up for an annual pro-democracy march on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Beijing.
The group has called on people to turn out in force.
Beijing has said it supports Lam’s decision to suspend the extradition bill, but has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington, about the legislation.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Hong Kong authorities on Monday to “consult broadly before passing or amending” the extradition bill or any other legislation.
The extradition bill triggered the most violent protests in decades when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds earlier this month.
Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China as reasons why the Hong Kong bill should not proceed.
China denies accusations that it tramples on human rights and official media said last week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the extradition bill.
(Reporting By Vimvam Tong and Delfina Wentzel Bermudez in Hong Kong, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ben Blanchard and Kevin Yao in Beijing; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)