Hong Kong lawmakers will have to vote on the controversial extradition bill by next Thursday, following a decision by the president of the legislature.
Andrew Leung told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he has reserved 66 hours for debate – including five hours for question and answer sessions unrelated to the bill. The debate will conclude at 8pm next Thursday.
Normally, the Legislative Council only meets on Wednesdays and Thursdays. But Leung added meetings for this Friday, until 1pm – and sessions next Monday and Tuesday until 8pm.
“I have given the debate a lot of time,” Leung said. He also postponed a question and answer session with the chief executive which was set for Wednesday morning,
Leung said his decision on the extradition bill was based on experience with last year’s legislative debate over the joint checkpoint arrangement for the high-speed rail link. He said the joint checkpoint bill was of a similar length to the extradition bill, and it took 38 hours for it to pass.
Democrats and pro-Beijing lawmakers have fought over the legitimacy of the chairperson at the extradition bill committees, leading the government to fast-track the bill’s progress through the legislature. The controversial law will nevertheless likely be passed with the support of pro-Beijing lawmakers.
A few minutes after Leung spoke, pro-democracy lawmakers Eddie Chu, Au Nok-hin, Gary Fan, Jeremy Tam and Lam Cheuk-ting unfurled a large banner – which read “anti-extradition” – in protest of Leung’s decision. Leung halted his speech and left the mic stand escorted by guards.
Hong Kong’s government first 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. However, democrats, lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland, which lacks human rights safeguards.
Teachers pledge action
Rallies have been called to protest against the bill outside the Legislative Council on Wednesday following a protest on Sunday which organisers say was attended by a million people.
Fung Wai-wah, president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union – which has thousands of members – has urged members of the profession to attend the rally.
He also urged school principals to be flexible towards students who decide to boycott classes and attend the rally on Wednesday after consideration.
On Tuesday, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong joined those urging the government not to rush the extradition law through: “We urge the Hong Kong government and the people, for Hong Kong’s benefit, to remain calm and find a just and legally-sound solution through peaceful means,” the Diocese said through its Kung Kao Po newspaper.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam is a Catholic herself.
Meanwhile, the Legislative Council closed its demonstration area on Tuesday and the government has closed part of Tamar Park’s lawn outside the building. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said that the lawn was undergoing maintenance until June 16, according to RTHK.
The legislature’s secretariat also announced a new measure on Tuesday whereby a ”yellow warning” may be issued depending on the situation near the building. In such cases, lawmakers will be limited to having only five members of staff in the complex. Since some democrats employ up to 14 assistants, some staged a protest outside the building, saying that they were not fugitives and were being treated as “inhuman.”
Hong Kong’s psychedelic disco rock superstars Shumking Mansion will play this year’s Hong Kong Free Press 2019 fundraising party at the Hive Spring in Wong Chuk Hang. Tickets are available now for a minimum donation of just HK$50 in advance (free for HKFP monthly donors).