Hong Kong's legislation allowing extraditions started with a teenager's gruesome murder in Taiwan

Police officer fires tear gas at protesters during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019.
Police officer fires tear gas at protesters during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

It has been a long, strange road for Hong Kong's legislation allowing extraditions with China.

What started with a gruesome murder during a local couple's holiday in Taiwan has become the latest flash point in the clash of values between Beijing and the West.

The legislation would give the Asian financial centre power to enter into one-time agreements with places like Taiwan to transfer criminal suspects, such as the Hong Kong man who escaped prosecution in the Valentine's Day murder case by returning home.

But the inclusion of China, whose justice system remains separate from Hong Kong's per a 1984 hand-over agreement with Britain, prompted hundreds of thousands of opponents to protest and attempt to stop the Bill's passage.

Here is how events unfolded.

FEBRUARY 2018: THE CRIME

A local teenager is killed while on holiday with her boyfriend in Taiwan. She is beaten, strangled and stuffed in a suitcase, and her body discarded near a train station. The boyfriend, a Hong Kong resident, admits to the murder after returning home. But the authorities cannot extradite him to the island to stand trial, and instead prosecute him for the lesser charge of money laundering.

FEB 12, 2019: PROPOSAL FLOATED

 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's government proposes legal changes that would ease the transfer of criminal suspects between jurisdictions with which it lacks formal extradition agreements, including mainland China. The move triggers concern among activists, lawyers and the business community, where many warn that exposing Hong Kong residents to China's legal system could put the city's autonomy and status as a financial hub at risk.

MARCH 18: AMERICAN DELEGATION

US lawmakers visit and meet pro-democracy lawmakers. They include the co-chairmen of the US-China Working Group - Illinois Republican Darin LaHood and Washington Democrat Rick Larsen. US Consul-General Kurt Tong says the Bill could have "some impact" on Hong Kong's special trading status.

MARCH 27: CONCESSIONS MADE

Hong Kong scales back the proposal, removing nine categories of financial crimes, including bankruptcy, securities and futures, and intellectual property. But the concessions do little to silence the outcry: The law still covers offences including murder, polygamy and robbery, which are all eligible for at least a three-year jail sentence under existing laws.

APRIL 3: LEGISLATION SUBMITTED

The government introduces its proposed Bill to the Legislative Council, with the goal of passing the proposal before the session ends in July.

APRIL 8: CHINA VOICES SUPPORT

Mr Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the Chinese office responsible for Hong Kong, backs the legislation, saying it will prevent the city from becoming a haven for fugitives. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also says it is necessary. The support comes after Britain, which handed the territory back to China in 1997, formally expresses its concerns to Hong Kong's government. Others, including the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, also air their reservations.

APRIL 28: ON THE DEFENSIVE

Mrs Lam pledges to press ahead after some of the city's largest mass protests since the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement. Organisers say as many as 130,000 demonstrators marched to the Legislative Council building, many of them calling for Mrs Lam's resignation. Police, however, say less than 23,000 attended.

APRIL 29: SUSPECT SENTENCED

A Hong Kong court convicts the Valentine's Day murder suspect of money laundering and sentences him to 29 months' jail, but his potential early release in October fuels government calls to pass the Bill.

 
 

MAY 17: POMPEO WEIGHS IN

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks out against the Bill, saying its passage would threaten Hong Kong's rule of law. He also meets pro-democracy advocates from Hong Kong for a discussion on the state of its autonomy and Beijing's efforts to extend its reach.

MAY 31: FURTHER AMENDMENTS

Hong Kong announces further amendments, saying it will raise the proposed extradition limit to crimes that carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Raising that threshold removes other categories of crime from the proposed law, including criminal intimidation, giving firearms to unlicensed persons and some sexual crimes.

JUNE 9: MASS PROTEST

Hundreds of thousands of people march through central Hong Kong in opposition to the Bill, many chanting for Mrs Lam to step down. Organisers say more than one million people, out of a population of 7.5 million, turned out at the demonstration's peak, while police estimate the crowd to be 240,000.

JUNE 11: PRESSING AHEAD

The Legislative Council schedules debates, amid calls for further protests and unprecedented demonstrations. Mrs Lam, with a fresh statement of support from Beijing, says that the extradition Bill provides enough human rights protections and warns that delaying its passage could be more divisive. Opponents urge a general strike next Monday, days before the legislature plans to finish debate on June 20.

 
 

JUNE 12: DEBATE POSTPONED

Tens of thousands of demonstrators surround Hong Kong's legislature, forcing it to postpone a second round of debate on the Bill.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2019, with the headline 'It started with a teenager's gruesome murder in Taiwan'. Print Edition | Subscribe