By Gina Goh –Originally published in Persecution.org / International Christian Concern
On October 23, Hong Kong’s legislature formally withdrew the extradition bill that led the autonomous region into a four month period of unrest.
The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill 2019, commonly known as the extradition bill, first came about after a young man from Hong Kong, Chan Tong-ka, murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and escaped back home. The Special Administrative Region (SAR) government in Hong Kong, using him as the pressing reason to implement the bill, announced its decision to amend the law last February.
It soon sparked protests from people of all walks of life. They feared that, under the new amended bill, criminals could be sent to China, a place where rule of law is still lacking and people are easily slapped with trumped up charges.
While Hong Kong enjoys religious freedom and has thriving religious communities, Christians are concerned that with the passage of the amendment, Christians who are involved in China-related ministries could be extradited to China and face imprisonment. A Hong Kong Christian businessman was accused of smuggling thousands of Bibles into southeastern China and sentenced to two years in prison for “illegal trading” in 2002.
Many fear that the SAR government will handle religious issues with non-religious reasons, despite its promises that criminals of political, religious, and human rights nature would not be extradited. In addition, many feel like this law could open a Pandora’s box to freedom violations through Beijing.
Millions of people have taken to the streets to express their anger. Given the limited response or concession from the SAR government, the situation spiralled quickly. The use of violence and police brutality became the new normal for Hong Kongers. Their demands increased, including a full withdrawal of the extradition bill, a commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality, retraction of the classification of protesters as “rioters,” amnesty for arrested protesters, and true dual universal suffrage.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong security chief John Lee said, “The government has expressed several times that the work [related to the bill] had completely stopped. Now, in order to more clearly illustrate the government’s stance on the bill, I … formally announce the withdrawal of the bill.” In the meantime, pro-democracy lawmakers called for his resignation in the Legislative Council.
In response, activist Agnes Chow Ting shared via Twitter, “…It is really too late. In these past four months, how many people have committed suicide? How many people were critically injured? Lost their eyes? Sexually assaulted? Beaten down? Arrested? …It’s hard to count by now.”
She continued, “Although the bill was withdrawn, Hong Kong has increasingly headed to the direction of a police state. Our lives, the society’s system, they are all ruled by police who are abusing their power. Therefore, we must continue to resist. We Hong Kongers will not give up.”
Kenneth Chan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, also told TIME that this development was “a belated response to the growing anger of Hong Kong people, and it’s come to the point that it may no longer even be relevant in terms of calming society down.”