HONG KONG - Murder suspect Chan Tong-kai, who is wanted in Taiwan for killing his pregnant girlfriend and whose case sparked off nearly five months of protests in Hong Kong, was on Wednesday (Oct 23) released from a Hong Kong prison where he apologised to his late girlfriend's family, adding that he hopes to surrender to Taiwanese authorities.
Shortly after 9am, Chan, 20, walked out of the Pik Uk Correctional Institution dressed in a blue windbreaker and grey T-shirt, carrying a red backpack. He was accompanied by Reverend Peter Koon, an Anglican pastor who has been visiting him regularly in prison.
"Firstly, I want to apologise to Hiu Wing's family and say sorry," he said, bowing deeply, referring to his girlfriend Poon Hiu Wing, who he has admitted to killing while on holiday in Taiwan in February 2018.
"I understand that I have done some things that are beyond wrong and have brought them a lot of pain and hurt."
"My mind has been troubled, so I am willing... to surrender and am willing to go back to Taiwan to face the law," he added.
But the Taiwanese government initially rejected his surrender and said it would not allow him to travel there, which has led to a row between the self-ruled island and Hong Kong. Taiwan had initially said Hong Kong should prosecute Chan for murder since the victim was a resident of the city, which the Chinese territory rejected.
In an about-turn on Tuesday, Taiwan asked for its officials to be allowed to travel to Hong Kong to pick up Chan and "any relevant evidence", moves which Hong Kong strongly rejected in a statement early on Wednesday.
"The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government sees it as cross-jurisdiction law enforcement, which is a disrespect for Hong Kong's jurisdictional power and is totally unacceptable," the statement said, noting that all relevant evidence and witnesses were in Taiwan.
It also called on Taiwan to “stop complicating the issue”.
But the self-ruled island hit back on Wednesday saying that by allowing Mr Chan to walk free, Hong Kong’s authorities were turning the city into a “criminal paradise where murderers can roam around”.
“We have exhausted our best efforts to demonstrate our sincerity to cooperate with the Hong Kong side... We must warn the Hong Kong Government that it should bear all negative consequences as a result of this,” said Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council in a statement.
Chan had been serving a 29-month sentence for money laundering, which stems from his theft and usage of Miss Poon's credit card.
During the holiday, the pair got into a tussle after Miss Poon said she was carrying another man’s child, Mr Chan told a court during his money laundering trial. After bashing her against a wall, he put her body in a suitcase and disposed of it.
He evaded arrest by simply returning home. Hong Kong and Taiwan do not have an extradition agreement.
The Hong Kong government held up the case as an example why broader extradition arrangements are required between various jurisdictions in Greater China, pushing for an extradition Bill to amend existing laws.
But the law would also allow for the handover of fugitives to mainland China, leading to concerns that this could mean a further erosion of freedoms for residents of the Chinese territory, which enjoys different laws from the rest of China.
It led to massive protests, with millions taking to the streets. While the government has since scrapped the Bill - it is due to be formally withdrawn during a legislative session on Wednesday - increasingly violent protests have rocked Hong Kong for 20 weeks as protesters call for greater democracy and express their anger towards police and the local government.
While Hong Kong is a Chinese territory, it is run on a separate mini Constitution, the Basic Law, and enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland, including a free press and the right to protest.
Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification by any means necessary. Current Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who is pro-Taiwan independence, is seeking re-election in January.
“It being election season, there are political considerations,” said East Asia Institute research fellow Qi Dongtao, noting that President Tsai could come under attack from both the opposition and her own party for accepting the fugitive on Hong Kong’s terms.
“Showing an acceptance of the Hong Kong administration, is by extension, showing weakness to Beijing, something which President Tsai would want to avoid,” he added.