Hong Kong's Democratic Forces Pledge Action on Extradition Law

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s pro-democracy forces pledged to step up their effort to block the government’s plan to allow extraditions to mainland China.

The opposition coalition, known as the pan-democrats, will lend their backing to a May 10 protest outside the offices of the city’s legislative council, before hearings the next day on the plan, Claudia Mo, a pan-democratic lawmaker said at a press conference Thursday.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was doing the bidding of the government in Beijing and not defending the interests of Hong Kong, Mo said. “This is an absolute order from Beijing and there is no room for her to maneuver," she said. "She’s just a puppet.”

The proposal, which would also ease extraditions to Taiwan and Macau, could open the door to Hong Kong citizens and foreign residents being prosecuted on the mainland. Critics say the plan will erode the autonomy guaranteed to Hong Kong before its 1997 return to China, and business groups have also warned the legislation could reduce the city’s appeal as a global financial hub.

As many as 130,000 people took to the streets to protest against the bill in April, among the largest demonstrations since months-long pro-democracy rallies in 2014 ended without any concessions from the Beijing-backed government. The Hong Kong-chapter of the International Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday the bill may impact the city’s ability to attract overseas investment.

Lam said Thursday that there had been a lot of misunderstanding about the bill and that she was “pained and disappointed" by what she described as extreme opinions and the unnecessary fear that it has generated.

“We are suggesting safeguards in the event of an extradition agreement and we shouldn’t resist the goal of plugging a loophole and passing a bill that could bring about justice," she said.

The proposed changes would allow extraditions on a case-by-case basis and was spurred by a high-profile 2018 murder case against a Hong Kong resident who confessed to killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. The confession came after the man returned to Hong Kong, which doesn’t have an extradition agreement with Taiwan.

"There are simpler ways to deal with this case as legal experts have pointed out, without having to complicate matters, and use a sledgehammer,” the ICC’s Hong Kong secretary Keith Brandt wrote in a letter to the Legislative Council. The ICC called for the process to be put on hold until a “thorough" and “proper" public consultation could take place.

In response to criticism from the business community, Lam has already removed nine categories of business-related crimes from the potential offenses eligible for extradition.

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