West Wind Column: HK, Gathering Under the Call of Freedom!

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By West Wind (Eagle Vision Times Columnist)

Today’s Hong Kong has in fact become the eye of China’s future. As Hong Kong’s protesters have yet seen a response from the government regarding their five major demands, (to withdraw the extradition bill, to withdraw the state’s definition of rioting, to drop charges against protesters, to launch an independent investigation into police violence in dealing with protesters and to call on universal suffrage in the city’s elections.) the protests against the extradition bill have continued to fester. Hongkongers from all professions have joined in on the protest. In China however its state-linked media have continued to censor information about the protest and police brutality.

In the face of protests and bloody clashes, the Chinese state-affiliated media have broadcasted a one-sided narrative. The Chinese state-affiliated Global Times describes the “One country, two systems” model in Hong Kong to be based “on the sincere goodwill of the central government,” which is the mainland Chinese government, and the goodwill of “the whole of China toward Hong Kong.” 

The Global Times continues, “Its implementation is backed by the Constitution. Interference by external forces is disrupting China’s constitutional system and challenging China’s sovereignty.”

The Global Times even labelled Hong Kong protests as a “Colour Revolution” and a “ruthless destruction of the city’s rule of law.” With such narrative the Chinese state have called upon the patriotic sentiment of mainland Chinese and have fueled a general sense of hostility from mainland Chinese towards Hong Kongers and supporters from the West.

So what is the FOO and why is the Hong Kong community resisting it?

The current Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in Hong Kong was prepared by the colonial Government and enacted in April 1997. The Hong Kong government first proposed amendments to the city’s extradition law in February, which would simplify the current case-by-case extraditions of criminal suspects via existing extradition treaties with 20 countries, including the United States. Instead, under the changes, the city’s top leader would have the authority to sign off on extradition requests, including from mainland China, without approval from the legislature, called the Legislative Council.

Currently, Hong Kong has signed individual extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the United States, Canada, and the UK—but not China.

The government has said the proposed changes are aimed to plug a loophole exposed by a Taiwan murder case.

According to Hong Kong media Singtao, then 19-year-old Hong Kong man Chan Tong-kai visited Taiwan together with his 20-year-old Hong Kong girlfriend Poon Hiu Wing in February 2018. Chan came back to Hong Kong alone soon after and withdrew 19,200 HKD ($2,450) from Poon’s bank account using her bank card.

Taiwan police found Poon’s body in Taipei City in March 2018 and have pursued Chan as the main suspect in Poon’s murder. But Chan remains in Hong Kong, as there is no extradition agreement between Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In Hong Kong court, Chan pleaded guilty to four counts of money laundering by withdrawing cash from Poon’s account on April 12 and is awaiting his sentencing.

But a source who is close to Hong Kong Liaison Office, the representative office of Beijing in Hong Kong, told the Chinese-language Epoch Times in a recent interview that the Taiwan case is not the true reason for the Hong Kong government’s proposal.

“It is a political task that the [Beijing] central government has commanded Carrie Lam, the chief executive, to do,” said the insider, who wished to remain anonymous.

The insider outlined four reasons why the Chinese regime wants the extradition laws changed: as a measure to response changes in U.S. policy toward China; to target and charge groups that the Chinese regime deems “hostile forces”; force mainland Chinese activists who have sought refuge in Hong Kong and strongly oppose the Chinese Communist Party to leave the city; and threaten Hong Kong pro-democracy activists into taking a more “moderate” route.

The incident was like a stone stirring up a thousand waves, the FOO has aroused great concern from across all community.

Taiwan’s government, concerned that Taiwanese people who are to be convicted by the Communist Party of China in the future could be extradited to mainland China if they cross the border or travel to Hong Kong, called on the Government of the Republic of China to declare its position on the issue.

On 21 February, Taiwan’s Mainland Committee stated that it would not accept any special arrangements to be implemented under the FOO. The urgent reasons for the need to amend the FOO urgently in the case of Chen Tongjia has been ruled out.

In this discussion of Amendment, Hong Kong’s legal and business communities were the first to come forward to raise objections. Their concerns clearly point to the judicial system and the rule of law in mainland China, rather than sending criminals to Taiwan. The legal profession has pointed out that the extension of the individual case of Taiwan by the Hong Kong Government to the mainland and Macao will further erode Hong Kong’s “One country, Two systems” policy as well as Hong Kong’s right to maintain “a high degree of autonomy”. There is a fundamental difference between the law of Hong Kong and the law of the Mainland, where in Hong Kong the accused to presumably innocent while those in mainland China are presumably guilty. Hong Kong has judicial independence, whereas the Mainland does not. Mainland China is ruled by a totalitarian regime, and by a Party’s centralised leadership that does not allow for judicial independence. Under the amended Ordinance, a certificate issued directly by the Chief Executive initiates arrest and transfer proceedings, and judicial review can only examine whether the documents submitted for extradition of a criminal are sufficient and whether the procedure is in conformity with legal procedures. That deprives the Legislative Council of its right to review the extradition process of the criminal. In other words the extradition amendment allows the extension of Mainland China’s ruling over Hong Kong’s citizens. 

In this way, although a loophole has been closed, another has been opened at the same time – allowing the Chinese government to extradite any political dissents to China and sentence them for crimes such as the “subversion of state power.” 

The Hong Kong Bar Association issued a statement stressing that Hong Kong and the international community have great concerns about human rights in mainland China, questioning the amendment. That’s because the Hong Kong Government cannot ensure that fugitives who are extradited to China will have a right to a fair trial, and to have the rights that a criminal may have under Hong Kong’s judicial system to ensure their safety and freedom. 

The business community fears that the FOO will disrupt the business sector in Hong Kong. This in return threatens Hong Kong’s international financial standing. The United States has stated that the Amendment may be in violation of the Hong Kong Relations Act of 1992, which will have a significant impact on Hong Kong’s economy.

In the face of unusually strong opposition from all sectors of the community, the Hong Kong Government had amended some of the extradition offences in the Ordinance and had increased the extradition sentence to seven years. In addition, political prisoners with freedom of speech will not be extradited. Nevertheless, that still does not resolve the doubt Hong Kongers may have towards the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which utilises the law as a political tool and does not execute judicial independence. It is easy for the CCP to convict people with crimes and accusations without the accused being given a say or the right to a human rights lawyer. People in Hong Kong are well aware of what is going on with the judicial system in Mainland China: the CCP arrests political prisoners but they never arrest them in the name of politics. Political prisoners are often caught on other charges like economic crimes, or arrested for criminal offences in civil offences. All of which manifests to a point where Hong Kongers have lost faith in China’s promise of the “One Country, two systems” model and to allow Hong Kong to maintain its autonomy for 50 years. 

In June, the Hong Kong Police forced their way through the Second Reading despite the public opinion, which led to the escalation of the Anti-Extradition Protest Movement, and the Hong Kong Police carried out a violent crackdown against Hong Kong protesters.The heavy use of tear gas, rubber bullets, cloth bags bullets, resulted in a bloody conflict. With the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), the Chinese government had seeked to intimidate Hong Kongers. At the same time, the Chinese state-affiliated media have pushed for a pro-CCP narrative and have distorted facts to fuel rage amongst Chinese citizens against “Hong Kong independence”. Using patriotic phrases and censorship, the Chinese government have blurred the lines between the love of its people for the country and their feelings for the government. 

Let’s look into Hong Kong community and hear what their people think. 

“I am one of the insignificant protesters in Hong Kong, and perhaps I am not enough to speak on behalf of the other protesters, ” a Hong Kong protester wrote in his Letter to Mainland Fellows, “But this storm since June, was formed by a group of strugglers who were as insignificant as I am.”

“Those who want to cut us off, are always those from the totalitarian regime looking down upon us. So on platforms like WeChat and other platforms in China, they will only describe us as a group of black-clad thugs destroying the flag, or a group of black-clad thugs attacking the police. 

“You will not see that the people of Hong Kong are blinded by the deliberate targeting of the police in the head during peaceful demonstrations; you will not see uniformed policemen having a cosy chat with the mafia who attacked the public; you will not see our Chief Executive’s indifference to the death of young people, and you will not see thugs who wear the banner of support for the Government and attack civilians around without being punished by law; you will not see the young people in Hong Kong being attacked by the mafia, lying paralysed on the ground; you will not see officials from the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government representing the country, openly inciting the gangsters at parties to attack civilians. All of this highlights the scale of this struggle, and is the real reason why it is getting worse.”

Why did the protest in Hong Kong last so long, with so many participants, a wide range of social strata involved and such a decisive willpower? People of all occupations, from each sector of society have stood up to protect and stand up for their own rights and interests. They need to fight for the future. The fundamental aspect of solving Hong Kong’s social problems lies in upholding the social system of democracy, freedom and the rule of law; giving the people of Hong Kong the freedom and power to critically evaluate its Government; and to uphold judicial justice. Placing the power of the government into the cage of an unjust system, will put an end to minorities, political dissidents or those who uphold a democratic society. 

These perspectives cannot be separated from the unified voices in Hong Kong which are speaking up against the extradition amendment. Without such a voice, the people of Hong Kong will not have freedom, democracy, nor the protection of the legal system, which is a reason Hong Kongers have listed universal suffrage as one of their five major demands. The people of Hong Kong are well aware that only by electing leaders who truly represent the interests of all sectors, can the people of Hong Kong really have the right to speak and to exercise their rights; to maintain a legal system that acts in the interest of its citizens; to build a strong economy; and to have policemen who protect its own people rather than to act as accomplices of a totalitarian regime that cracks down on its own people. It is by doing so that Hong Kongers will ensure that democracy will prevail for generations to come.

Translated from:【西风专栏】香港,在自由的召唤下集结!

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