Protesters unmoved after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says extradition Bill is dead

(From left) Figo Chan, Jimmy Sham and Bonnie Leung from HK Civil Human Rights Front respond to Carrie Lam’s press conference on July 9, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the extradition bill that sparked the territory's biggest political crisis in decades is "dead", admitting that the government's work on the bill had been a "total failure."
Mrs Carrie Lam's declaration appeared to be a win for opponents of the Bill, but it was not immediately clear if it would be enough to satisfy them. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HONG KONG - Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday (July 9) pronounced the highly controversial extradition Bill "dead", but her remarks seemed to do little to allay lingering suspicions from protesters that the process of passing it through the legislature could still be restarted.

Speaking to the media at the government headquarters in Admiralty after weeks of protests, Mrs Lam repeated an earlier pledge not to move forward with the Bill, though she stopped short of giving in to protesters' demands that the Bill be fully withdrawn from the legislative programme.

"So I reiterate here, there is no such thing. The Bill is dead," she said.

Mrs Lam appealed to the public to give her administration the opportunity and time to "take Hong Kong out of the current impasse and try to improve the current situation".

"I fully understand that the responses of the government may not have fully met the wishes of the people, especially the protesters who have gone on the streets several times to express their views," she noted.

"I just want to reiterate that this has nothing to do with my own pride or arrogance. This is the government's full deliberations of the various concerns and factors and come to the conclusion that the responses are practical measures for us to move ahead."

However, Mrs Lam's use of the word "dead" to describe the Bill prompted protesters to accuse her of wordplay. Civil Human Rights Front's Bonnie Leung said: "We cannot find the word 'dead' in any of the laws in Hong Kong or any legal proceedings in the LegCo, so how can the government tell us that we have to preserve our rule of law when she herself did not use the principle of the rule of law herself?"

Ms Leung also cited some police officers not having their identification badge on their uniforms as an example of the government not complying with the rule of law, reiterating that the Front demands an inquiry into allegations of police brutality.

"If the five demands are still not heard by Carrie Lam and her government, the Civil Human Rights Front will continue to hold protests and assemblies. We're discussing the details and will announce them later."

Apart from the retraction of the Bill and an investigation into police brutality, protesters are demanding the release of arrested protesters and the removal of the designation of an earlier clash as a riot. A previous demand for Mrs Lam to step down has been replaced by a call for universal suffrage.

The Hong Kong chief executive said it would not be acceptable to extend amnesty to all those who broke the law during the past weeks of protests, as protesters are demanding.

"(This) goes against the rule of law in Hong Kong and also deviates from the very important principle laid down in the Basic Law that no one should interfere with the Department of Justice's prosecutorial decisions," she said.

As for the demand for an independent investigation into cases of police brutality, Mrs Lam referred to last Friday's announcement that the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) would conduct a fact-finding study on the events from June 9 to July 2.

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Council members are appointed by the Chief Executive and critics have said the many pro-government individuals in the council means it is not as independent as its name suggests.The council also would not have the power to summon witnesses, unlike an independent inquiry, which is always chaired by a judge.

Mrs Lam said the study is expected to wrap up in six months after which the "open" report would be submitted to her along with recommendations.

In her 25-minute briefing, she said she had "fully reflected on the peoples' concerns".

She referred to her pledge on the morning of July 1, the anniversary of the handover as well as the day protesters stormed LegCo, that she would adopt a new governance style so as to listen to feedback from different sectors.

To do so, her political team, including principal officials and under-secretaries, will listen extensively to the views of people with different ideas; the role of the non-official members of the Executive Council will be enhanced; and the existing consultative machinery, particularly the Youth Development Commission that was set up to address young people's concerns, will be reformed.

She said more open platforms should be built to facilitate dialogue in frank exchanges, and that whoever joined the committees for such dialogue should come from different backgrounds.

Mrs Lam has also invited her administration to re-examine controversial policy initiatives and decide if there is a need to redo or enhance consultative work.

She added that she welcomes an open dialogue with the student leaders of the various universities. This, after the student leaders rejected her initial invitation to a closed-door forum.

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The leader also appealed to the wider public to solve the deep-seated issues in society that were not addressed since the 2014 Occupy Central protests.

Based on suggestions from university presidents and religious and social leaders to create an open and constructive platform, Mrs Lam said she hoped this ground-up initiative would manage the rift in society and ease tensions while the government continues its work on improving the livelihoods of the people.

In response to Mrs Lam's assurances, Ms Hedy Ng, vice-president of the provisional council of the Education University of Hong Kong Students' Union, told The Straits Times that the leader "has once again not answered any of the five demands from the people".

"What about the other requests, for universal suffrage, for the rioting charges to be dropped, to take back the 'riot' definition and for an independent commission to look into the police's actions? She has addressed none of that," Ms Ng said, adding that the Education University's student union "has not heard a single thing" on her meeting student leaders.

Political activist Joshua Wong called Mrs Lam a "liar", saying he was fed up with her "wordplay" on the Bill being "dead".

In a Twitter post, he wrote that "the Bill still exists in the legislative programme until July next year" and the only way to "kill" it is to formally withdraw the Bill.

He added that the Chief Executive has failed to respond to any of the protesters' demands.

Hong Kong stocks slipped in the first few minutes of Tuesday trade, extending the previous day's losses following another negative lead from Wall Street. Following Mrs Lam's speech, the Hang Seng Index fell 0.8 per cent, or 225.47 points to 28,106.22, as of noon.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Law

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