Extradition Battle Looms On Eve Of Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary
For decades Hong Kong has been a safe place to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
But now there’s fears a new bill that would allow critics to be sent back to mainland China for prosecution proves Beijing’s influence is growing stronger and freedom of expression is under threat.
Hundreds of people were killed when soldiers and tanks rolled into central Beijing in mid-1989 to crush student-led pro-democracy demonstrations.
To this day the Communist regime refuses to admit that it happened and thirty years on, the struggle for democracy continues.
“Hong Kong is like a little boat, it's sinking, sinking fast. This is a political grand plan to shut down Hong Kong,” Claudia Mo a member of the Pan-democracy camp said.
Mo also sits on the Legislative Council which is currently considering the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance bill. If approved, it would allow for the capture and extradition of suspects, including foreign nationals who just happen to be in Hong Kong -- for the first time.
“The crux of the problem is the lack of trust in the Chinese judiciary system. If they want to get you, they'll always get you, they'll package up a crime against you,” Mo said.
The extradition threat has put a dampener on the candlelight vigil – held every year on June 4 in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, to remember the massacre.
Despite the significance of the anniversary many of those directly involved won’t be coming this year.
Journalist Ching Cheong said many survivors have chosen to head to Taiwan instead, fearing Hong Kong is no longer safe.
Cheong, an outspoken critic of the regime, knows what it’s like to be thrown into a Chinese prison, he spent almost three years in jail accused of espionage – a charge he denies - before being released in 2008.
“In China, nothing, not a single word, not a single picture about the massacre," Cheong said.
"The Chinese government has been extremely effective in wiping out this historical event. Here in Hong Kong because of this vigil, the memory is still alive, but we're still facing a lot of disruptions.”
Sharron Fast, a media law expert from Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre said of most concern is Beijing’s history of torture practices and broken promises when it comes to death penalty assurances.
“The bill is a threat, not just to Hong Kong citizens but also to expatriates, journalists and anyone passing through Hong Kong,” she said.
“The Chinese government is very effective at bringing cases against individuals who speak against the party. We do not have assurances on how the Hong Kong courts will deal with the political motivations of Beijing on these issues.”
In 1997 Hong Kong – a former British colony - was handed back to China under the so-called one country, two systems agreement, which ensured legal and human rights protections. Creating a haven for dissidents and foreigners beyond Beijing’s reach.
The Australian government is yet to issue a formal statement but is understood to be concerned about the impact of the bill on the ‘one country two systems’ rule.
Last week Britain and Canada joined the European Union and the USA, in voicing their opposition.
"We are concerned about the potential effect of these proposals on the large number of UK and Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, on business confidence and on Hong Kong’s international reputation," the statement read.
The bill also seeks to change the Mutual Legal Assistance provisions, which would give Chinese troops the right to search a suspect’s home or workplace and confiscate assets.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive has defended the proposal, insisting it closes a loophole ensuring fugitives can be brought to justice. Citing the case of an alleged Taiwanese murderer who recently fled to Hong Kong.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC, is on Hong Kong's Executive Council and supports Lam. He insists it’s vital “to plug a serious hole in our legal regime in relation to extradition" and adds any suggestion that Beijing is pulling the strings is ridiculous.
Tong says current protections are adequate and the bill should pass.
“Hong Kong law dictates if there are not sufficient assurances, the extradition law will not be applicable, meaning a defendant cannot be extradited.”
But Tong admits the controversy over the bill is impacting business confidence and Hong Kong’s international reputation.
The proposal has been watered down since first being introduced in April, with nine white collar crimes removed to appease the business community but critics want more.
Hong Kong Solicitors and Barristers will march to the High Court on June 6 in protest, while a larger march is planned for June 9.
“By conservative estimates, we're expecting 300,000 Hong Kong citizens… it's difficult to say how the government will respond. They have not been open to criticism on this bill.” Fast said.
Mo predicts things will get worse before they get better, but has hope.
“We need to do something for the young. We're trying at least to delay things, we need to keep up the fight… we're not just answerable to our children, we're answerable to history.”