HONG KONG • Thousands of people protested in Hong Kong yesterday against a government plan to change extradition laws, fearing an erosion of personal freedom and the city's status as an international business hub.
The Hong Kong government's proposal, announced in February, would grant the city's leader executive power to send fugitives to jurisdictions not covered by existing arrangements, including mainland China and Taiwan.
Protest organisers said 12,000 took to the streets while police estimated the crowd at 5,200 at its peak.
Mr Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller who said he was detained by Chinese agents in 2016, told the crowd: "Hong Kong people all have to bear the negative consequence of this ordinance. This carries the risk of personal freedom being restricted."
The government said last week that it will present the amendments to legislators on Wednesday.
The planned changes have been strongly opposed by some lawmakers, legal and rights groups who fear that it could be exploited by Beijing's Communist Party leaders and hurt Hong Kong's judicial independence.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor wrote in an open letter to the city's leader Carrie Lam yesterday: "(We) are concerned that these changes would remove existing safeguards from the process of extradition, allowing people to be sent to jurisdictions, notably mainland China, where they are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, and unfair trials."
Since Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee that it would enjoy a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not allowed in mainland China, there has been no formal mechanism for the surrender of fugitives to mainland China.
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee told reporters last week the government had no plans to scrap the Bill.
He said "it is not an easy decision, but it is a cautious, careful and serious decision", adding that the Hong Kong government "has the sole right to decide whether or not to process (extradition requests)".
Hong Kong's business community has expressed concern over the inclusion of economic and financial crimes in the Bill.
The government later removed nine types of crime relevant to bankruptcies, financial trading and intellectual property.