Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday dodged a question over whether her administration would use emergency legislation to curb protests, saying only that the Hong Kong government will work within “existing laws.”
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance grants the city’s leader and her council of advisors the power to “make regulations on occasions of emergency or public danger.” Local newspaper Sing Tao Daily cited sources saying that the government was considering using emergency legislation given the increased risk of casualties after a weekend of escalated clashes.
“As of today, the Hong Kong government is still confident that we can deal with this two-month-long social dispute ourselves, and I believe that it is also the hope of the general public — that we deal with it ourselves. The best basis for this is the rule of law,” Lam told reporters before her regular Tuesday meeting with the Executive Council.
“All of Hong Kong’s laws, if they can provide a rule of law measure to stop violence and chaos, the government has a responsibility to examine them,” she added.
Lam also restated her opposition to a judge-led independent commission of inquiry to look into the protest movement — one of the five core demands of protesters — saying that the Independent Police Complaints Commission was already engaged in a study.
The idea was not rejected out of hand because of opposition from the police force, she added.
The embattled leader also told reporters that she was in the process of meeting different groups to work towards a “platform for dialogue” that she promised one week ago. Local media reported on Monday that Lam held a meeting with a group of young people behind closed doors, accompanied by her education chief Kevin Yeung and home affairs chief Lau Kong-wah.
Asked if she would respond to the five core demands of the anti-extradition law movement, Lam said: “It is not a question of not responding, it is a question of not accepting those demands.”
Lam added that the government will not condone violence, and said that protesters over the weekend had used “weapons with a risk of lethal injury” to attack police officers. The protesters “brazenly acted against the law” and caused fear among the public, while police used the minimum level of force in accordance with the force’s guidelines.
The ill-fated extradition bill would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to China, which lacks rights protections. Since June, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into – sometimes violent – displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy, alleged police brutality, surveillance and other community grievances. Demonstrators are demanding a complete withdrawal of the bill, a fully independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”
The chief executive also made special mention of the “smart lampposts” which were targeted at Saturday’s protests in Kwun Tong. Protesters tore down some of them citing fears of government surveillance, and suspicions their components were similar to the monitoring network in mainland China.
“What was the reason [for destroying lampposts]?” she said. “The development of a ‘smart city’ was to help Hong Kong’s development of innovative technologies… but this was damaged by some radical protesters.”
Responding to Lam, Democratic Party lawmaker James To said that using emergency legislation would not have a desirable result.
“Does she want Hong Kong’s special status to die even sooner by cancelling Hong Kong people’s rights to peaceful protest?” he said. “I hope Carrie Lam will rethink it.”
Several protests are slated for this week, including a Civil Human Rights Front march on Saturday. According to the pro-democracy coalition, millions joined their previous rallies since June against the controversial extradition bill and alleged police violence.
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