Critics say the bill will leave anyone on Hong Kong soil vulnerable to being grabbed by the Chinese authorities for political reasons or inadvertent business offenses and undermine the city’s semi-autonomous legal system.
The bill has caused political gridlock, outcry among the city’s usually pro-conservative business community, and even physical scuffles in the city’s legislature, as well as criticism of the Hong Kong government by the United States and European Union.
A grisly murder case in Taiwan, where a 20-year-old Hong Kong woman was allegedly killed by her boyfriend while on holiday there, has expedited the case for the bill. Currently, the suspect cannot be sent from Hong Kong to face justice in Taiwan.
Earlier this week, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, slammed the bill.
Unwanted and unneeded?
Business groups in Hong Kong usually take a neutral stance on contentious political issues. But this time they have also spoken out against the bill. In a bid to secure their support, the government has limited the scope of extraditable offenses — but for some that is still not enough.
“Hong Kong is not ready to see this bill passed and we do not see why it should be rushed through when the loophole it seeks to address has existed for 20 years,” AmCham said in a statement.
But government spokesman Matthew Cheung said the move was time sensitive.
“The suspect in the Taiwan murder case is serving sentences for other criminal offenses in Hong Kong but is expected to be released this October,” Cheung said. “There is thus a pressing need to provide a legal basis for the assistance that we want to render to Taiwan, before the (legislature) goes into summer recess from mid-July to October.”
The extradition bill, particularly an attempt to fast track it through Hong Kong’s semi-democratic legislature, has reinvigorated the city’s flagging opposition movement after numerous setbacks.
Fears over the bill — and criticism from a broad swath of Hong Kong society — echo 2003 when half a million people took to the streets to oppose the passage of an anti-sedition law. That legislation was shelved but the issue has become such a hot button topic in Hong Kong that — despite promising to do so — no governments since have attempted to introduce it.