Deadline set for extradition bill vote at HK legislature as citywide strike gathers steam

Current Legco President Andrew Leung speaks to the press in 2016. Today Leung announced that the legislature had until Thursday night to vote on controversial changes to the city’s extradition laws. Photo via VOA.
Current Legco President Andrew Leung speaks to the press in 2016. Today Leung announced that the legislature had until Thursday night to vote on controversial changes to the city’s extradition laws. Photo via VOA.

The president of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council announced this afternoon that lawmakers have until next Thursday night to vote on a law allowing extraditions to mainland China, as scores of Hong Kong businesses and unions prepare for a citywide strike tomorrow in protest of the controversial legislation.

The city was rocked by the huge rally on Sunday — the largest since the city’s 1997 return to China — as vast crowds called on the city’s leaders to scrap the Beijing-backed plan, which many fear will tangle people up in the mainland’s opaque courts and hammer Hong Kong’s reputation as an international business hub.

However, the crowds failed to sway Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who yesterday rejected calls to withdraw or delay the bill.

Tomorrow the proposed law will have its second and third readings in the city’s parliament, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists, making its passing all but assured.

Today, Legco President Andrew Leung said he had allotted 66 hours for debate of the bill, a calculation he made based on the debate time for a similarly controversial law regarding the enforcement of mainland law at a Hong Kong rail station last year, HKFP reports. Leung added special sessions on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday to accommodate the debate period, which ends next Thursday evening.

Leung said in a set of prepared remarks today that the window allowed “a lot of time” for debating the bill, which has proven to be one of the most divisive pieces of legislation in recent memory, and added that a question and answer session with Lam scheduled for tomorrow morning had been postponed.

Protest groups have vowed to stage a fresh rally outside parliament tomorrow, and have urged people to join or to go on strike. Business owners have taken to social media using a hashtag that translates as “#612strike” to announce solidarity closures, allowing staff to join the protest.

Pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung, aka Long Hair, fires up demonstrators as hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers took the streets on Sunday to protest a controversial extradition bill. Photo by Stuart White.
Pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung, aka Long Hair, fires up demonstrators as hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers took the streets on Sunday to protest a controversial extradition bill. Photo by Stuart White.

As of this morning, more than 100 businesses had declared plans to strike, ranging from coffee shops and restaurants to camera stores, toy shops, nail salons, yoga studios, and even an adult entertainment store.

“Hong Kong was built by our various generations with hard work,” one such business, Meet Yoga, wrote on its Instagram account. “A Hong Kong without freedom — how about we just wipe it off the map entirely and call it China?”

Meanwhile, unions have also joined the planned boycott. The staff union at New World First Bus Company, which has over 1,000 members at one of the city’s largest bus operators, said it will stage a “work-to-rule” protest — in which employees deliberately perform a bare minimum of work — urging drivers to really take their time along their routes, driving well below the speed limit and checking the aisles at each stop, RTHK reports.

A union at rival operator Kowloon Motor Bus shared the New World union’s call on Facebook, but didn’t clarify whether it was urging its members to join as well.

Members of the aviation industry also released a petition calling on their unions to join the strike, though it was unclear today whether they would do so. And the city’s largest teachers union urged its members to take part in tomorrow’s demonstration, but stopped short of formally announcing a strike.

Thousands of social workers are also expected to take part, and more than 40 social welfare and religious groups have called for employers to allow their workers time off to participate.

Chief Executive Lam today warned businesses against protesting in a press conference today, the SCMP reports, urging them to think of the children (no, seriously, she did), and saying her administration would continue to seek to allay fears over the bill (since they’ve been doing such a stellar job so far).

Pro-Beijing officials say the law is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city from being a sanctuary for fugitives, while former colonial administrators involved in the current law’s drafting have said the “loopholes” referred to by the government were actually intended as a very deliberate firewall between Hong Kong and the mainland.

The law’s backers also maintain it contains sufficient safeguards to ensure human rights standards are upheld and that political critics of Beijing will not be targeted, but many Hongkongers say they have little faith in those assurances.

The government has also pointed to Western democracies’ extradition arrangements with mainland China in an effort to make the proposed amendments more palatable. However, the government has strenuously avoided acknowledging that, almost without exception (that we know of), no Western democracy is an actually territory wholly possessed by China with leaders selected and approved by Communist Party leadership.

What’s more, one of those Western democracies, New Zealand, today shot a bit of a hole in the government’s rationale by refusing to extradite a murder suspect to the mainland, citing Chinese authorities penchant for “widespread” and “systemic” torture.

The ruling was announced in a 99-page judgement, which included a damning assessment of Beijing’s justice system. (Just for reference, the Telegraph reported in 2016 that China’s courts have a conviction rate higher than 99.9 percent.)

And just to further complicate things, people noticed today that much of Tamar Park, the broad lawn adjacent to the Legco complex where many protesters had hoped to gather, was roped off with tape today.

An image circulating on social media calling on extradition law opponents to gather at Tamar Park (pictured in the foreground) tomorrow. Photo via Facebook.
An image circulating on social media calling on extradition law opponents to gather at Tamar Park (pictured in the foreground) for “picnics” in protest of the law tomorrow. Photo via Facebook.

City officials maintained that the lawn had been cordoned off for “regular maintenance,” RTHK reports, which they said would be completed by Sunday. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which manages the park, maintained that the lawn had actually been off-limits since late April.

As of press time, police had not responded to questions from Coconuts HK about what measures would be taken if demonstrators tried to use the lawn.

Meme-while, Hong Kong’s netizens have been steeling themselves for the coming rally by, perhaps fittingly, sharing social media posts that would likely get them arrested on the mainland. Here are a few for your enjoyment:

 


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