On 31 March 2019, the Civil Human Rights Front composed of 50 pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong launched a protest against the amendment Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation bill. This event marked the beginning of a series of demonstrations collectively dubbed as the 2019 Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Bill Protests.
Explaining the Reason Behind the 2019 Hong Kong Protests
The 2019 Hong Kong Protests essentially represent a widespread public clamor against and criticism toward the amended Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation bill proposed by the government of Hong Kong in February 2019.
Note that the bill provides a mechanism for transferring fugitives to jurisdictions in which Hong Kong lacks an extradition deal, including Mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan. It would also allow mutual legal assistance to be made between Hong Kong and any place outside the administrative region.
But what exactly are the arguments for the new bill? What are the counterarguments against and criticisms toward this bill? Why are the residents of Hong Kong protesting against the 2019 Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation?
Arguments in Support of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill
The proposed amended Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation bill is specifically an extradition bill. Take note that extradition is a cooperative law enforcement process between two jurisdictions. The bill also allows mutual legal assistance between Hong Kong and involved jurisdictions.
Nevertheless, since 1987, the territorial principle between the HK government PRC government has maintained that individuals should be prosecuted and tried at the place of the offense. However, Hong Kong lacks an actual legalized extradition mechanism deals with Mainland China, as well as in jurisdictions such as Macau and countries like Taiwan.
Interest in a new extradition law resurfaced in early 2018 when then 19-year-old Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai killed his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing in Taiwan before returning to his place of residence. Chan admitted to HK police that he murdered his girlfriend. The police were unable to charge him for murder or extradite him in Taiwan because there is no legal mechanism for handling the situation.
The Hong Kong government has cited the example of Chan to rationalize and defend the importance of having extradition and mutual legal assistance arrangements with relevant countries. Furthermore, officials argued that the bill needs to be made into law as soon as possible so that they can send Chan to Taiwan for prosecution.
Note that Chan is currently in prison since April on money-laundering charges, but he could be released as early as October. Both the governments of HK and Taiwan would not be able to do anything against his murder offense. Once released, Chan has the liberty to flee Hong Kong.
Counterarguments Against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill
Arguments against the bill and thus, the primary reason behind the 2019 Hong Kong Protests center on concerns that Hong Kong, its residents, and visitors would be subjected under the restrictive criminal laws of Mainland China. Note that there are more specific counterarguments and contentions against the bill.
First is that HK residents fear that the bill would undermine the principle of “one country, two systems” because it seems to place the autonomous region under the Mainland Chinese jurisdiction, thus taking away the unique rights of HK residents and its visitors.
There is also an issue about the alleged flaw legal system of China. Business groups noted that the bill would affect the freedom enjoyed by investors and businesspersons in Hong Kong. The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said that the criminal process in Mainland China lacks fairness with regard to detention, representation, and prosecution.
Legal experts also expressed their reservations toward the bill. The Hong Kong Bar Association explained that extradition arrangements with Mainland China are restricted because of its fundamentally different justice system, as well as concerns over the flawed track record of PRC in protecting fundamental rights.
Three senior HK judges and 12 experts in commercial and criminal law noted that the limited scope of extradition hearings would leave them limited options to maneuver. They will also be exposed to criticism and political pressure from Mainland China if they try to stop high-profile suspects from being sent across the border.
Even Taiwan has expressed concerns over the bill. It stated that it would not enter into any agreement with the HK government that would undermine its sovereignty. Note that the bill places Taiwan as part of PRC. Furthermore, the Taiwanese government noted that its citizen is at a higher risk of being extradited to Mainland China.
A Note on the Relationship Between Hong Kong and China
Hong Kong was a British colony for over 150 years. In 1997, the territory was handed over to Mainland China. It is currently a part of the People’s Republic of China, although it has its own legal system, currency, and civil liberties that do not exist in Mainland China.
Based on the “one country, two systems” principle, the PRC government has guaranteed a high degree of autonomy to Hong Kong that will last until 2047. Nonetheless, the need to preserve this autonomy remains as the primary reason behind the 2019 Hong Kong Protest.
Residents have argued that once passed, the new extradition law would not only expose them to the legal system of Mainland China but also would raise the possibility of politically motivated persecution and unfair trials. Photo credit: June 9 demonstration, at Arsenal Street, capturing Hennessy Road, Admiralty by Hf9631/Adapted/CC BY-SA 4.0
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Cheung, T. 2019, June 13. “What Is Behind Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition Protests?” South China Morning Post. Available online
- Hong Kong Bar Association, 2019, June 21. “Statement of the Hong Kong Bar Association on Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019.” Hong Kong Bar Association. Available online
- Meick, E. 2019, May 7. Hong Kong’s Proposed Extradition Bill Could Extend Beijing’s Coercive Reach: Risks for the United States. US-China Economic Security Review Commission. Available via PDF
- Torode, G. and Pomfret, J. 2019, May 29. “Exclusive: Hong Kong Judges See Risks in Proposed Extradition Changes.” Reuters. Available online