Hong Kong’s Extradition Law: From a Grisly Murder to Mass Protests

Karen Leigh
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Hong Kong’s Extradition Law: From a Grisly Murder to Mass Protests

(Bloomberg) -- It’s been a long, strange road for Hong Kong’s legislation allowing extraditions with China. What started with a gruesome murder during a local couple’s Valentine’s Day holiday in Taiwan has become the latest flash point in the values clash between Beijing and the West.

The legislation would give the Asian financial center power to enter one-time agreements with places like Taiwan to transfer criminal suspects, such as the Hong Kong man who escaped prosecution in the Valentine’s Day murder case by returning home. But the inclusion of China, whose justice system remains separate from Hong Kong’s per a 1984 handover agreement with the U.K., prompted hundreds of thousands of opponents to protest and attempt to stop the bill’s passage.

QuickTake: Hong Kong’s Autonomy

Here’s how events unfolded:

February 2018: The Crime

A local teenager is killed while vacationing with her boyfriend in Taiwan. She’s beaten, strangled, stuffed in a suitcase and ultimately discarded near a train station. The boyfriend, a Hong Kong resident, admits to the murder after returning home. But authorities can’t extradite him to the island to stand trial, and instead prosecute him for the lesser charge of money laundering.

Feb. 12, 2019: Proposal Floated

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government proposes legal changes that would ease the transfer of criminal suspects between jurisdictions with which it lacks formal extradition agreements -- including mainland China. The move triggers concern among activists, lawyers and the business community, where many warn that exposing Hong Kong residents to China’s legal system could risk the city’s autonomy and status as a financial hub.

March 18: American Delegation

A delegation of U.S. lawmakers -- including the co-chairmen of the U.S.-China Working Group, Representatives Darin LaHood, an Illinois Republican, and Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat -- visits and meets with pro-democracy lawmakers. U.S. Consul General Kurt Tong says the bill could have “some impact” on Hong Kong’s special trading status.

March 27: Scaled Back

Hong Kong scales back the proposal, removing nine categories of financial crimes -- including bankruptcy, securities and futures, and intellectual property. But the concessions do little to silence outcry: the law still covers offenses including murder, polygamy and robbery, which are all eligible for at least a three-year jail sentence under existing laws.

April 3: Legislation Submitted

The government introduces its proposed bill to the Legislative Council, with the goal of passing the proposal before the session ends in July.

April 8: China Voices Support

Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the Chinese office responsible for Hong Kong, backs the legislation, saying it will prevent the city from becoming a haven for fugitives. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also says it’s necessary. The support comes after the U.K., which handed the territory back to China in 1997, formally expresses its concerns to Hong Kong’s government. Others -- including the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong -- also air reservations.

April 28: On the Defensive

Lam pledges to press ahead after some of the city’s largest mass protests since the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement. Organizers say as many as 130,000 demonstrators marched to the Legislative Council building, many of them calling for Lam’s resignation. Police, however, say less than 23,000 attended.

April 29: Suspect Sentenced

A Hong Kong court convicts the Valentine’s Day murder suspect of money laundering and sentences him to 29 months in prison, but his potential early release in October fuels government calls to pass the extradition bill.

May 17: Pompeo Weighs In

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo speaks out against the bill, saying its passage would threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law. He also meets pro-democracy advocates from Hong Kong for a discussion on the state of its autonomy and Beijing’s efforts to extend its reach.

May 31: Further Amendments

Hong Kong announces further amendments, saying it will raise the proposed extradition limit to crimes that carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Raising that threshold removes other categories of crime from the proposed law, including criminal intimidation, giving firearms to unlicensed persons and some sexual crimes.

June 9: Mass Protest

Hundreds of thousands of people march through central Hong Kong in opposition to the bill, many chanting for Lam to step down. Organizers say more than 1 million people -- of a population of 7.5 million -- turned out at the demonstration’s peak, while police estimate the the crowd at 240,000.

June 11: Pressing Ahead

The Legislative Council schedules debates, amid calls for further protests and unprecedented strikes. Lam, with a fresh statement of support from Beijing, says the bill provides enough human rights protections and warns that delaying its passage could be more divisive. Opponents urge a general strike on June 17, days before the legislature plans to finish debate on June 20.

--With assistance from Shawna Kwan and Caroline Alexander.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Leigh in Hong Kong at kleigh4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Kathleen Hunter

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