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Hong Kong extradition bill is 'terrible blow' to rule of law, says Patten Hong Kong extradition bill is 'terrible blow' to rule of law, says Patten
(about 20 hours later)
Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, has said a proposed extradition bill allowing suspects to be sent to China for trial is a “terrible blow” to the rule of law and will undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub.Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, has said a proposed extradition bill allowing suspects to be sent to China for trial is a “terrible blow” to the rule of law and will undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub.
The legal amendments being pushed by the special administrative region’s government would allow case-by-case transfers of people to countries without extradition treaties, including China.The legal amendments being pushed by the special administrative region’s government would allow case-by-case transfers of people to countries without extradition treaties, including China.
Critics in the business, legal and diplomatic communities say the bill would in effect extend China’s coercive reach into Hong Kong and erode the rule of law.Critics in the business, legal and diplomatic communities say the bill would in effect extend China’s coercive reach into Hong Kong and erode the rule of law.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee that under a “one country, two systems” mode of governance, the city would retain a high degree of autonomy, an independent judiciary and freedoms not allowed in mainland China.Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee that under a “one country, two systems” mode of governance, the city would retain a high degree of autonomy, an independent judiciary and freedoms not allowed in mainland China.
Patten, who at 75 remains a figure of some influence and has continued to speak out on Hong Kong affairs, said the bill was the worst thing to happen to the city under Chinese rule.Patten, who at 75 remains a figure of some influence and has continued to speak out on Hong Kong affairs, said the bill was the worst thing to happen to the city under Chinese rule.
“It’s a proposal, or a set of proposals, which strike a terrible blow … against the rule of law, against Hong Kong’s stability and security, against Hong Kong’s position as a great international trading hub,” Patten said in a video commentary posted online on Thursday.“It’s a proposal, or a set of proposals, which strike a terrible blow … against the rule of law, against Hong Kong’s stability and security, against Hong Kong’s position as a great international trading hub,” Patten said in a video commentary posted online on Thursday.
Opposition to a proposed extradition law has broadened into a wider movement against Hong Kong's leadership, its relationship with China  and the future for the special administrative region. The protests were triggered by a controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the Communist party controls the courts, but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has offered a ‘solemn’ personal apology for the crisis and also hinted that she had in effect shelved the controversial legislation. However, protesters criticised her as insincere and said she had ignored their key demands. The demonstrations have continued. Public anger fuelled by the aggressive tactics used by the police against demonstrators has collided with years of frustration over worsening inequality and the cost of living in one of the world's most expensive, densely populated cities.
The bill concerned legal changes that would make it easier to extradite people from Hong Kong to China. Supporters say the amendments are key to ensuring the city does not become a criminal refuge, but critics worry Beijing will use the law to extradite political opponents and others to China. Under the amended law, those accused of offences punishable by seven years or more in prison could be extradited. The protest movement was given fresh impetus on 21 July when gangs of men attacked protesters and commuters at a mass transit station while authorities seemingly did little to intervene. 
The government claims the push to change the law, which would also apply to Taiwan and Macau, stems from the killing last year of a Hong Kong woman while she was in Taiwan with her boyfriend. Authorities in Taiwan suspect the woman’s boyfriend, who remains in Hong Kong, but cannot try him because no extradition agreement is in place.  Underlying the movement is a push for full democracy in the city, whose leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment rather than by direct elections.
Officials have promised to safeguard against abuses, pledging that no one at risk of political or religious persecution will be sent to the mainland. Suspects who could face the death penalty would not be extradited. Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until their core demands are met, such as the resignation of the city's leader, Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested and a permanent withdrawal of the bill.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said the bill has not come from the central government in Beijing. However, Beijing has voiced its backing for the changes. Hong Kongers have seen Beijing’s influence grow in recent years, as activists have been jailed and pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from running or holding office. Independent booksellers have disappeared from the city, before reappearing in mainland China facing charges.
Many fear the proposed extradition law will be used by authorities to target political enemies. They worry the new legislation spells the end of the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, eroding the civil rights enjoyed by Hong Kong residents since the handover of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997. Under the terms of the agreement by which the former British colony was returned to Chinese control in 1997, the semi-autonomous region was meant to maintain a “high degree of autonomy” through an independent judiciary, a free press and an open market economy, a framework known as “one country, two systems”.
Many attending the protests say they cannot trust China because it has often used non-political crimes to target government critics. They also fear Hong Kong officials will not be able to reject Beijing’s requests. Legal professionals have also expressed concern over the rights of those sent across the border to be tried. The conviction rate in Chinese courts is as high as 99%. Arbitrary detentions, torture and denial of legal representation of one’s choosing are also common. The extradition bill was seen as an attempt to undermine this and to give Beijing the ability to try pro-democracy activists under the judicial system of the mainland.
Police have clashed directly with demonstrators, and have been accused of standing by during attacks on protesters and commuters by groups of men in white in Yuen Long on 21 July.   Lam has shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill, while Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations but has left it to the city's semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation. Meanwhile police have violently clashed directly with protesters, repeatedly firing teargas and rubber bullets.
After the current crisis, analysts believe the Hong Kong government will probably start a new round of retaliatory measures against its critics, while the Chinese government will tighten its grip on the city. Lily Kuo and Verna Yu in Hong Kong
Lily Kuo in Beijing and Verna Yu in Hong Kong
The law would “remove the firewall between Hong Kong’s rule of law and the idea of law which prevails in communist China”, Patten said. “An idea of law where there aren’t any independent courts, where the courts and the security services and the party’s rule, which are sometimes pretty obscure, are rolled all together,” he said, referring to China’s ruling Communist party.The law would “remove the firewall between Hong Kong’s rule of law and the idea of law which prevails in communist China”, Patten said. “An idea of law where there aren’t any independent courts, where the courts and the security services and the party’s rule, which are sometimes pretty obscure, are rolled all together,” he said, referring to China’s ruling Communist party.
Despite pressure on the government to scrap the bill, including a planned protest march on Sunday that organisers hope will draw several hundred thousand people, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, insists the bill is necessary to plug legal loopholes and would help ensure public safety.Despite pressure on the government to scrap the bill, including a planned protest march on Sunday that organisers hope will draw several hundred thousand people, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, insists the bill is necessary to plug legal loopholes and would help ensure public safety.
Patten called the loophole argument “absolute nonsense” and alluded to longstanding concerns about China’s legal system that would make it difficult to guarantee a fair trial.Patten called the loophole argument “absolute nonsense” and alluded to longstanding concerns about China’s legal system that would make it difficult to guarantee a fair trial.
“People have known exactly why there shouldn’t be an extradition agreement with China for years, and many of the arguments put for the government’s proposals don’t actually pass the laugh-off-your-seat test,” he said.“People have known exactly why there shouldn’t be an extradition agreement with China for years, and many of the arguments put for the government’s proposals don’t actually pass the laugh-off-your-seat test,” he said.
He pointed to the cases of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, arrested in China on spying charges shortly after Meng Wanzhou, an executive with the Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Canada on a US warrant.He pointed to the cases of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, arrested in China on spying charges shortly after Meng Wanzhou, an executive with the Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Canada on a US warrant.
“I hope that even at this late stage the government will back off,” Patten said of the extradition bill.“I hope that even at this late stage the government will back off,” Patten said of the extradition bill.
“It doesn’t have to happen. It shouldn’t happen and Hong Kong should carry on as a free society under the rule of law without having to worry about this extradition.”“It doesn’t have to happen. It shouldn’t happen and Hong Kong should carry on as a free society under the rule of law without having to worry about this extradition.”
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