Hong Kong’s number two official has dismissed the possibility of “tripartite” talks aimed at resolving the legislative deadlock over the controversial extradition bill.
Pro-democracy camp lawmakers have asked the government to step in after the bill was stalled once again on Tuesday morning. Democrats and pro-Beijing lawmakers backed competing committees to vet the bill, with each side claiming that their version was legitimate.
However, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said on Tuesday afternoon that lawmakers must “iron out their differences in their own way” because the question was about procedure, not the substance of the government’s bill.
“It would be inappropriate for the executive authorities to intervene in what is essentially an internal procedural issue of the legislature,” Cheung said. “That is pretty clear: internal procedure is to be dealt with internally.”
Cheung added that he was open to lawmakers proposing viable alternatives to the government’s plan – despite top officials disparaging alternatives proposed by scholars and lawmakers last week.
Hong Kong proposed legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China and Taiwan. The plan would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle extradition requests without legislative oversight, though lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland. In April, tens of thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets in protest of the proposal as democrats have sought to hinder the bill’s progress at the legislature.
Lawmakers lobby Lam
Earlier on Tuesday, pro-democracy lawmakers co-signed a letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, asking her to meet with them and consider shelving the bill.
The talks were first proposed by lawmaker James To – whom democrats believe to be the lawful chairperson of the committee vetting the extradition bill. To said he was willing to abstain from the meeting if his status as chairperson may prove divisive.
“The reason I ended the meeting early today was to show sincerity, and to show our consensus that the Legislative Council need not be so tense,” To said. “Even if [the government] does not withdraw the bill, there is still a lot of room to discuss.”
Pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo said she raised the possibility of talks with lawmaker Martin Liao, her counterpart in the pro-Beijing camp. Liao replied that he would need to discuss the matter within his own camp on Wednesday, according to Mo.
By Tuesday afternoon, pro-Beijing lawmaker Abraham Shek had wavered over whether he would continue to preside over the bills committee – a role assigned to him by his own camp. Shek’s allies previously chose him to unseat To from the committee’s leadership position as Shek had the best claim to seniority.
The role meant that Shek became the prime target of his pro-democracy rivals, and meetings on Saturday and Tuesday morning saw the 73-year-old being caught in the middle of intense physical confrontations.
Initially, Shek told reporters he was “incapable” of being the presiding member, as he led two meetings and both failed – but he backtracked on the comment hours later.
Shek said he had written to the House Committee to seek instructions.
The House Committee, which is responsible for the legislature’s internal matters, has a pro-Beijing majority and is led by DAB lawmaker Starry Lee. It has the power to set up a smaller task force to vet the bill, or can send it directly to the main chamber for a vote, thus bypassing the bills committee stage altogether.
Reporters injured amid chaos
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) on Tuesday expressed deep regret that some photographers were blocked by guards during the morning’s scuffles at the Legislative Council.
Apple Daily reported that security guards held up their hands to block photographers and tried to pull at their cameras, resulting in scratches on a photographer’s arm.
Reporters suspected that the guard was deliberately obstructing them on the pretext of “safety,” according to the newspaper.
The HKJA also asked the legislature’s president Andrew Leung to clarify his earlier remarks about the possibility of journalists falling foul of the law.
When asked about reporters getting into clashes with guards, Leung previously said that the security guards were just doing their jobs and were protected by the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance. This meant that anyone obstructing the guards in their duty would be committing a crime.
The HKJA said Leung’s comments were “inappropriate” because he did not take into account the behaviour of the guards, and because he failed to properly explain how reporters had broken the law.
Additional reporting: Jennifer Creery.
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