Hong Kong extradition: Protest mounts as controversial bill debated

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Media captionThe BBC’s Helier Cheung on why people are taking to the streets in Hong Kong

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Hong Kong as anger grows over a controversial bill allowing extradition to China.

An overnight vigil was held outside the Legislative Council, which is set to debate the bill on Wednesday.

In the early hours, the number of protesters swelled as they blocked key roads around government buildings.

Despite widespread opposition the government has said it will continue to push for extradition.

Critics cite the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions and forced confessions in the Chinese judicial system.

Various segments of society have spoken out against extradition to China in recent days including schools, lawyers and businesses, with hundreds of petitions also in circulation.

A number of businesses and workers also announced that they will go on strike.

Powerful business lobbies said they fear the plans will damage Hong Kong’s competitiveness as a base of operations.

The government has promised legally binding human rights safeguards and other measures it says should alleviate concerns.

Nevertheless, this has led to the largest rallies the territory has seen since it was handed back to China by the British in 1997.

Police said they are also investigating death threats made against Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and members of the justice department over the bill.

What action has been planned?

There were minor disturbances around the city late into Tuesday night as tensions mounted ahead of the second reading of the bill.

An online petition had called for 50,000 people to surround the Legislative Council (LegCo) building at 22:00 local time on Tuesday (14:00 GMT) and remain there until Wednesday morning.

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Early on Wednesday, several thousand people turned out in areas around the building despite heavy rain, with some key roads blocked.

There is a heavy police presence and young people have been stopped and searched.

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The Civic Party, a pro-democracy group, posted on Facebook calling for closures across Hong Kong.

More than 100 businesses including a magazine have said they will shut to allow their staff to protest for freedom and nearly 4,000 teachers said they would strike.

A number of financial companies, including HSBC, have made flexible work arrangements for Wednesday.

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On Sunday, organisers said more than a million people took to the streets holding placards and demanding the government abandon the amendments, though police put the numbers much lower at 240,000.

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Anthony Kwan

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Sundays protest was the biggest since the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997

After the largely peaceful protest, a number of protesters clashed with police outside the LegCo building, leading to injuries and arrests.

The leader of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, has warned against further mass protests and strikes, saying: “I call on schools, parents, institutions, corporations, unions to consider seriously if they advocate these radical actions.”

What are the proposed changes?

They allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoing such as murder and rape. The requests will then be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The move came after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while they were holidaying in Taiwan together in February last year.

The man fled to Hong Kong and could not be extradited to Taiwan because no extradition treaty exists between the two.

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Media captionCritics say the plan will erode the city’s judicial independence

Hong Kong officials have said courts in the territory will have the final say over whether to grant extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.

Critics say people will be subject to arbitrary detention, unfair trial and torture under China’s judicial system.

The government has sought to reassure the public with some concessions, including promising to only hand over fugitives for offences carrying a maximum sentence of at least seven years.

According to a schedule set out by Hong Kong’s legislature, the bill must be voted on by 20 June.

Hong Kong has entered into extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the UK and the US.

What is Hong Kong’s relationship with China?

Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 until sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.

Central to the handover was the agreement of the Basic Law, a mini-constitution that gives Hong Kong broad autonomy and sets out certain rights.

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Despite the protests, Ms Lam refused to scrap the bill

Under the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong has kept its judicial independence, its own legislature, its economic system and the Hong Kong dollar.

Its residents were also granted protection of certain human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Beijing retains control of foreign and defence affairs, and visas or permits are required for travel between Hong Kong and the mainland.

However, the Basic Law expires in 2047 and what happens to Hong Kong’s autonomy after that is unclear.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Monday that Beijing would “continue to firmly support” Hong Kong’s government, adding: “We firmly oppose any outside interference in the legislative affairs” of the region.

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