Lawyers rally against HK extradition law changes

Almost 3,000 legal professionals in black garb staged a silent protest at the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong yesterday, demanding that the authorities scrap a proposed extradition Bill, with less than a week before it is tabled at a full Legislat
Almost 3,000 legal professionals in black garb staged a silent protest at the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong yesterday, demanding that the authorities scrap a proposed extradition Bill, with less than a week before it is tabled at a full Legislative Council meeting.PHOTO: REUTERS

Legal community wants proposed legislation withdrawn, citing threat to rule of law

With less than a week to go before the divisive extradition Bill goes through a second reading, the pressure on the Hong Kong government to drop the proposed legislation is growing.

Yesterday, almost 3,000 lawyers, all dressed in black, gathered at the Court of Final Appeal for a silent protest - the fifth and biggest of its kind by the city's legal community since Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

At the government headquarters in Admiralty, Mr Dennis Kwok, the lawmaker representing the legal sector, urged the government to withdraw the Bill immediately.

"They came out for one reason and one reason only, because they see there's a threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong because of this extradition Bill. If passed, (it) will do irreparable damage to our legal system, to our rule of law, to the values we treasure," said Mr Kwok.

The much debated Bill will allow Hong Kong to hand over fugitives to various jurisdictions, such as Taiwan and, more importantly, China.

Next Wednesday, the government will table the extradition Bill at a full Legislative Council meeting as it seeks a quick passage of the Bill with the backing of pro-establishment lawmakers.

The move follows the government's decision to further scale back proposed changes floated in February, in a bid to garner the support of an uneasy business community and pro-Beijing lawmakers.

 
 
 

Last week, the government said it would allow suspects or fugitives to be extradited if their offence is punishable by seven years' jail instead of three years' jail, among other things.

It would also accept and process transfer requests made by only the top judicial authorities of other jurisdictions and not those from the provincial authorities.

But many in the political, business, legal and media sectors are still worried about a fugitive's right to a fair trial and fear that the changes will be used by the Chinese mainland authorities for political persecution - something the Hong Kong government has insisted will not happen.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the Bill is meant to plug an existing legal loophole and that the amendments "are intended to pursue judicial justice in criminal cases and also to protect the public".

It is a point that Beijing officials have echoed.

The idea for changes to the extradition Bill was floated after a Hong Kong resident, Chan Tong-kai, confessed to killing his girlfriend in Taiwan last year. The confession came after Chan returned to Hong Kong, which does not have an extradition agreement with Taiwan.

In a video interview released yesterday, the city's last British governor, Mr Chris Patten, urged the government not to go ahead with the proposed Bill.

"What these proposals do is to remove the firewall between Hong Kong's rule of law and the idea of law - which prevails in communist China - an idea of law where there aren't any independent courts, where the courts and the security services and the party's rules... are rolled altogether," he said.

On Wednesday, the Law Society called for a thorough review of the relevant laws and also asked for additional safeguards, such as allowing a Hong Kong person accused of crime overseas to dispute and resist an extradition request.

 
 
 

Another rally has been planned for Sunday.

Asked how far it will go in getting the government to bin the extradition Bill, lawmaker Claudia Mo said it is "realistically not hopeful".

"So, you ask, what's the point in doing this? First of all, we still believe in miracles in politics. The thing is that you never say never. If you fight, you may not get it, but if you don't, you definitely won't get it," Ms Mo said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2019, with the headline 'Lawyers rally against HK extradition law changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe